Hammock lot

People walk through the “hammock lot” on Evans Street, which is the proposed location for a new boutique hotel, last Friday.

The Greenville City Council signed off on a letter of intent with the developer of a proposed downtown hotel, giving staff the authority to finalize the sale and project agreement.

The council unanimously approved the letter of intent at its Thursday meeting.

Co X Holdings, a Wilmington-based developer, wants to purchase 1.6 acres at 421 and 423 Evans St. and build a 60-90 room boutique hotel that will include a rooftop bar and lounge.

The property, which now is a green space that links the Fourth Street Parking Garage to Evans Street, once was the site of a retail building that was demolished in 2008 after its roof collapsed.

The letter of intent outlines terms of the project acceptable to the city and developer, Assistant City Manager Michael Cowin said. Contractual terms would be spelled out in the purchase agreement.

Cowin said the tentative plan would require Co X to purchase the property for $203,000. The hotel is expected to cost between $16 million to $19 million, generating about $67,000 to $80,000 in property tax revenue annually.

Over a 15-year period, the project would have a nearly $1.2 million to $1.6 million positive financial impact on the city, he said.

If additional revenue from the hotel occupancy tax generated by the business, increased tax value of neighboring properties and increases sale tax for increased business is added in the equation, Cowin said the financial impact would be doubled.

The letter of intent lays the groundwork for a deal that will allow the hotel to rent about 69 spaces in the parking garage for its customers, Cowin said. It also designates the city’s Harris parking lot, located across from the parking garage at the corner of Fourth and Cotanche streets, as the staging location during construction.

“My concern is the location of this lot is very narrow, there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver,” Mayor P.J. Connelly said. He feared the project will require Evans Street north of Fifth Street to close for an extended period.

“It could potentially cripple some businesses there,” Connelly said. The City Council and staff have heard repeated reports of businesses in the path of the Town Creek Culvert project suffering losses because of road closures, he said.

Connelly said he loves the idea of a hotel in that area, but worries about the street closures.

Councilman William Litchfield worried the penalty for not meeting construction deadlines, $500 a day, isn’t a sufficient enough deterrent to prevent the future builder from missing the deadlines.

The letter of intent states the sale of the property will be completed within 12 months of the approved date of purchase, Cowin said. Co X must apply for a building permit within 12 months of the approved date of purchase.

The project has to be completed within 20 months of the slab being poured or the $500 a day penalty takes effect.

The project received the support of a local businessman with a history of restoration and business development in the downtown area.

Speaking during the public comments period, Don Edwards said while some people do not like the loss of a green space, he urged the council to go forward with the project because the location will allow hotel guests to walk to restaurants and businesses instead of having to drive everywhere.

“Walkability has a better environmental impact than the loss of the green space,” Edwards said.

Prior to their meeting, council members weighed a proposal to change the city’s guidelines for installing traffic calming devices during a workshop session.

When people request speed calming devices, the city conducts a survey of their neighborhood, said Stacy Pigford, assistant city traffic engineer. If a speeding problem is determined, the city requires a petition signed by 75 percent of the neighborhood’s residents be presented to traffic services.

Pigford said usually one person ends up in charge of the petition and it becomes burdensome.

Calming device installations in the neighborhoods of Sterling Point, Bent Creek, River Hill and Dunhagan Road are stalled because the city has not received the required petitions, Pigford said.

Under the proposed change, once a neighborhood qualifies for traffic calming letters would be sent the residents.

“If we don’t hear from them we will assume they are for moving forward,” Pigford said. If individuals oppose the calming device, they would contact the city, City Manager Ann Wall said. If more than 50 percent of the neighborhood opposes installation, it wouldn’t occur.

The city budgets about $35,000 annually for installation of calming devices. The devices cost between $2,100 and $3,000 per location, Pigford said.

Connelly asked if other traffic calming devices, besides the speed cushions currently used by the city, were available.

“I like the concept of speed cushions but they are oddly shaped so I asked staff to look at other options to mitigate the issue of speeders in neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s tough to go over them sometimes. With oncoming traffic, sometimes you have to shift over based on the positioning of the speed cushions. It would be nice to see if there are other options.”

City Councilwoman Monica Daniels asked if the petition process had to be completely eliminated.

Residents in some neighborhoods would be suspicious of any letter from a government entity and likely would respond better to a person who would visit their homes and explain what the city was trying to accomplish, Daniels said.

“Let us process this idea and of finding a neighborhood contact,” Wall said. Staff also will explore other traffic calming devices.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.