There undoubtedly has been much written and discussed about the redevelopment of Parking Lot Number 5. Here are my feelings. I think that redevelopment of this site for residential and commercial use is important for being an impetus for more good redevelopment downtown in the future. However, my history with this project is very limited. I have heard comments such as (and not all are included here!) : “this is a TIF in disguise”; “why should we shell out 7.5 million for a parking lot we already own?”; “this is just an incentive for developers. Just wait until the developers come to the council for other incentives to redevelop and make their own downtown project great. Maybe we can ask the council for something in return for us creating a great downtown project;” “cannot trust RAM, look how the numbers have changed and it’s too risky now. No telling what they’ll do next”; “what happened to revenue neutral as the goal of the town in this project?” . Thus, I had many questions to pose before our council committee and town manager. I asked basic questions and continue to ask questions(not all included below), such as: isn’t it important to have start and end dates to the project given that our general revenue for current lot 5 use will be reduced by 275K per year….once the “hole is dug” and steel beams are put up, our lot 5 will no longer generate the revenue that we once had for parking. Thus, less money in our “pot” to pay off the 7+ million dollar parking lot debt–each year. If we put an end date on the project, we could fine the developer a certain amount per month if they don’t meet that “date”, until the project is complete. And if the project is not completed within a reasonable time frame (say six years), then the developer loses rights to lease the property (and air rights) and other possible fines(?). From what I have seen to date it looks like the project could be completed within 3 years to five years. Whatever the time frame, the public needs to know, and hold this developer accountable.
Also, what about affordable parking and housing? I am thankful the developer has agreed to 15% of affordable units here– but what about the parking? Why should we send the affordable unit owners two blocks away to park? I say put the parking on site (or close!), or not at all. And it would be nice if we could cater to families in affordable housing, not just singles. The Town needs more 2 bedroom units that are affordable. What about condominium assocation fees? These fees often eat away at the affordable owner’s budget and eventually make the units unaffordable. We need a way to offest these fees in some manner for this development and other developments that come down the pike for affordable owners.
What about the performance bond? How much will it be? This is important. We don’t want this developer to say to the Town in another 2 years, “cannot complete the project as designed due to increased construction costs beyond our control”, etc. and leave us with a hole in the ground and an unfinished building. Yes, they are contributing 12+ million in equity. They could still walk away. The bond should be sufficient enough to complete the project by another developer, if need be. The town’s risk is minimal in that we don’t pay the 7+ million for the parking deck till the deck is ready for operation. But, if the developer “goes to town” and begins construction, which involves destruction of our current lot 5 that generates 275K per year in revenue, and leaves it without our ability to make ready use of it again as a parking lot, we lose out financially. If we proceed with this development agreement, we want to make sure that it goes on and gets DONE. Let’s agree to a very sufficient performance bond and a reasonable time frame of project completion and consequences if the time frame is not met.
This development could be a true beginning to a revitalization of downtown, and contribute to the commercial and residential tax base in a positive manner. There could be many positive “intangibles” in this downtown redevelopment that one local developer noted (future increase in commercial tax base, residential tax base, etc). But I want to make one thing clear (at least for me): don’t expect the Town to contribute financially in any way to any redevelopment efforts similar to this one, in the future. I can tell you that in downtown Durham, the city often “contributes” financially to large redevelopment projects when the developer requests certain things such as infrastructure improvements, etc. in order for their project to be successful. The argument is that the Town owns the parking lot #5 land, wants control in its development, and thus wants to invest in itself.
And yet: what happened to “revenue neutral.” What happened when the Town went from 500K for affordable housing to 7.5 million for an underground parking facility attached to a massive tens of millions of dollars residential/commercial project? Unfortunately for me, I came onto council without the institutional knowledge. Fortunately, I have had the questions to ask as everyone else has had. I have not been in involved in the negotiations. I greatly respect the time spent by our council committee on these negotiations (Bill, Sally, Cam). I have not been there during the deliberations of the past. It is almost not fair for me to come in and pose such questions (now and in the future) as if I don’t trust the opinions of my fellow council members. My fellow council members are acting in good faith. But I am the newest member of this council and again, I’m not in this to sit back and assume all is OK and not offer up my own personal opinions. I am deeply troubled about the thought of spending 7 million on an underground parking deck. At first blush, I don’t like it one bit. I recognize the value of this project inherently in what it can do to revitalize downtown, however. Do we need to spend 7 million on a parking deck? Would this project have happened, or something similar to it, without the Town investing that money? What if we sold the land outright and let the SUP process allow the Town to control to the extent that it could without the capital outlay? What are the benefits to a public/private partnership here and in future developments? What is the precedent that we set with this development? Did the Town allow sufficient time for the public to absorb the 7.5 million price tag? Is it all a “rosy picture” that in reality is not the accurate picture? I have listened to each and every person that has spoken on this project (to me), have read all of the letters to the editor, etc. and I’m still struggling. I’m excited about this project, but still struggle with the financial ramifications. I want to make sure that this Town is very much protected and invested wisely.
So when this comes before the council on Monday, my questions will be there. The decision will not be made on Monday as to the final outcome of the project— it will merely authorize the manager to proceed to finalize a development agreement, which still has to come back before the council for approval. I still have time to think about it and ask questions. And I’ll continue to do so, and I encourage all others that are concerned to do the same.