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City denies request to view Imperial Site bids

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Bids for development at the Imperial Tobacco property remain out of the public eye more than three months after the deadline for them to be submitted.

Greenville officials sought bids from firms to carry out conceptual designs for the 86-acre site after a City Council vote in June. The bids were to be opened on Sept. 15, and a public discussion was expected to follow at a subsequent council meeting.

A city plan aims to draw a mix of residential, retail and office uses to the site off of Atlantic Avenue. The council would have to review the bids before selecting a firm to proceed with the design work.

The Daily Reflector in October submitted a request to view the bids. The city attorney denied that request and subsequent requests.

“In accordance with NCGS 132-6(d), the city is withholding the release of proposals received for the former Imperial Tobacco site until a developer for the project has been identified,” City Attorney Emanuel McGirt said in an email on on Nov. 14.

“Any release of the requested information prior to the selection of a partner could adversely affect the selection process. We are excited about the potential of a public-private partnership for the former Imperial Tobacco warehouse site, and we anticipate selecting a partner for this highly anticipated project in the near future. We look forward to sharing more details once the selection process is complete.”

State law says that such bids become public record at the time they are unsealed, according to Amanda Martin, general counsel to the North Carolina Press Association. The law does allow government agencies to shield information such as “trade secrets” but requires them to omit those sections of the record rather than withholding the entire document.

“I do not believe that the law with regard to economic development shields bids from public view,” Martin said.

The city would not allow the Reflector to view the documents even with portions omitted and would not offer further clarification on its denial.

Imperial Tobacco operated a processing plant at the site from the 1900s. The property was optioned by a developer in the mid-2000s but it burned down in 2008.

The city purchased the site for $1 in 2012 and used a federal Brownfield grant to clean up toxins left from the fire and plant operations.

In September 2016 the council contracted with Development Finance Initiative of Chapel Hill to facilitate development of the site.

DFI presented multiple options to the council at the June meeting. The council approved a concept that reinvests revenues from the development of some sections of the property to ensure affordable housing is included elsewhere on the land. 

The site is expected to attract approximately $68 million in private investment if the plan comes to fruition, officials said in June.

It is not clear when the bids will be presented to the City Council. They are not included in the agendas for the council meetings in January. 

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579.

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