Lot 5 Onward

I was very relieved to read the opinion article in the Chapel Hill News today entitled “Cost of Lot 5 is a Moving Target”.  Last Monday night when the town manager asked the council for an extra $460,000, I felt alone in my concerns about this project’s costs.  Apparently, however, I’m not the only one as evident by the author of this column.  The argument at our council meeting was that these expenses were not new but but have been expected all along.  The only added expense that I knew about (or remembered! I was not on the negotiating team), beginning only a couple of months ago, was the environmental remediation for around 240K.    That was the sort of expense that could not have been avoided or anticipated in the budget for the project that was originally presented.  My concern was the “construction management cost” and the “professional services” costs—about 220K more, that was not included in the original budget.  I felt like if we did indeed know about these costs, and they were there “all along”, then why not put them in the original budget as presented to the public?  I voted “no” philosophically—although it’s obvious I wanted the environmental cleanup and the honorarium for Dean Malecha.  Thank goodness someone else in Chapel Hill feels the same way.  I think this opinion article was right on target.  It follows:

“Last spring, supporters of the proposed Downtown Development Initiative — more commonly known as the
Lot 5 project — pitched a proposal to the public that sounded mighty tempting.
Ram Development Co. would build two big new projects downtown on the sites of what is now parking lot 5 and the Wallace Deck. They would include more than 200 condominiums, a lot of retail space and open area. The town would be a partner in the project, but one with a limited financial investment: while Ram anticipated spending $70 million to $80 million, the town’s cash contribution would be capped at $500,000. Well, times change. Last summer Ram realized it couldn’t make that plan work. The company and town staff went back to the drawing board and returned in the fall with a new and very different plan: Scratch the Wallace Deck idea; just do the
Lot 5 project, and the town would contribute not $500,000 but $7.25 million.
Yikes. That was a much less attractive proposal, and the trend it indicated — rapidly increasing public cost — was hardly reassuring. With good reason, it seems. After Town Manager Roger Stancil last week asked the Town Council for another $460,000 for
Lot 5, the town’s tab for past and anticipated expenses now sits at nearly $8.4 million.
We’ve come a long way from those heady days when we were on the hook for just half a million bucks. Supporters of the project on the council say that what might appear to be new expenses actually aren’t, that those expenses have been expected and included in the plan all along. That may be. But $7.25 million, not $8.4 million or any other total, was the figure we were presented with when the new incarnation of the
Lot 5 proposal was rolled out last fall.
We’re guessing $8.4 million isn’t going to be the final tally, either. If that is so, if the figure is going to climb further, it would behoove the town to go ahead and say what it expects the final number to be, rather than appearing to ratchet it up by increments.” —Chapel Hill News May 13, 2007

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