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Council divided on developing Tobacco site


Rick Smiley and P.J. Connelly at a November City Council meeting.


By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Greenville City Council on Thursday directed staff to research a potential partnership for the development of the Imperial Tobacco site as well as bring back additional detail on the public investment the development would require. 

The council was presented three bids from development groups for the 8.6-acre site near downtown in response to a request for bids put out by the city in July.

The proposals came from The Keith Corporation of Charlotte, Armada Hoffler of Virginia Beach and Hallmark Communities and Seacoast Communities of Mount Pleasant, S.C. The bid from The Keith Corporation is for a portion of the site to construct a large office building. The other two are for the complete development of the site.

City Economic Development Director Roger Johnson said staff believed all there proposals were excellent and suitable for the development of the site, and did not offer a recommendation on which company should be selected. According to City Manager Ann Wall, staff was asking the council to select a company to begin negotiations so more specifics could be identified. 

Council was split on how to proceed Thursday, with some members suggesting specific companies, while others were concerned about the city proceeding with any of the bids. 

Debate centered on the investment each bid would require from the city. According to Johnson, bids from the whole-site developers, Armada-Hoffler and Hallmark-Seacoast, asked the city to build about 650 parking spaces, which staff estimated could be about $15.3 million.

Johnson said the exact cost to the city was unknown, and the $15.3 million was just an estimate based on what the developers proposed; negotiations could lead to different numbers. 

District 5 Councilman Will Litchfield and Mayor P.J. Connelly were vocal in their opposition to city investment. Litchfield said he was not comfortable making a decision on which developer was the best company until more details about cost could be determined. 

The proposals from both developers were for a mixture of residential, commercial and office space across the property. Both plans proposed about 320 residential units and about 65,000 square feet of office space, most of which is located in a proposed three-story building on one end of the development. 

Connelly and Litchfield also said they were concerned about whether the proposals were the best use of the property — whether more housing was the kind of economic development the city needed. Connelly said he did not want to risk upward of $15.3 million in infrastructure on the project when the council had so many other priorities for funding across the city. 

“Putting $15.3 million of taxpayer funds on the board is a tremendous amount of money. I mean we have some goals and priorities we’ve set out in the council planning session ... we only have a (finite) amount of money we as a city can use, I don’t want to subsidize, and take money away from services the city offers,” he said. “I just feel like we’re playing roulette with the taxpayers’ money.”

District 4 Councilman Rick Smiley, who supported Armada Hoffler’s bid, disagreed with Connelly. He said the council needed to select a developer so they could begin the process of identifying the specifics then weigh whether or not the venture would be worth it.  

“You’re right. We don’t know and we can't know until we give staff a chance to talk to some of these people, and we can’t have sensitive conversations until we pick one and we're willing to pick one and get into it,” he said, adding he would support any of the developers if council had a preference.

“It sounds like what the mayor is saying is that he doesn’t want to see anything happen, that there are unanswered questions and he doesn’t want the questions answered and as long as those questions are unanswered, we won’t move forward.”

The council generally supported the idea the site should be developed in phases, specifically beginning with the office complex, instead of the entire site — an idea presented by the Hallmark-Seacoast bid. Staff also received interest from a local developer interested in building a hotel on the site, which council agreed was something worth looking into. 

According to Johnson, the bid from Armada Hoffler stated any change to the scope or time of the city’s proposal would result in the developer pulling out of negotiations. At-Large Councilman Brian Meyerhoeffer pointed out this conflict effectively eliminated Armada Hoffler from council’s considerations.

Based on this, Meyerhoeffer said he wanted to go back to Hallmark-Seacoast and figure out exactly what the city would be required to do in regard to parking. Litchfield made a motion for staff to research this, as well as a partnership involving both Hallmark-Seacoast and Keith. The motion asked staff to present the information to them in March. 

Johnson said Hallmark-Seacoast had already informed staff they would be willing to have talks with The Keith Corporation about partnering on the site, allowing Keith to build the office building on the site. 

The motion was approved unanimously.

Contact Seth Gulledge at Sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth