City to OK payment for Spencer’s deal

By Tom Joyce

June 18, 2014

After announcing on May 15 that they had bought Spencer’s Inc. property in a surprise move, city officials are poised to officially approve the payment for that transaction Thursday night.

Among the agenda items on tap for a 7 p.m. meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners at the Municipal Building is a resolution to authorize the expenditure of $92,381 for the Spencer’s purchase.

This will represent the first time for the acquisition to be voted on in a public session, coming on the heels of a May 15 absolute auction of the Spencer’s Inc. property where infant apparel manufacturing once flourished. The mill complex situated along Willow Street has sat unused since production ceased in 2007.

During a commissioners meeting on the evening of May 15, Mayor Deborah Cochran announced that the city government had been the secret buyer of the Spencer’s property during the afternoon auction. At the auction, downtown businessman Gene Rees appeared to be the high bidder for property that sold for a total of $103,500, including two separate tracts containing eight buildings.

However, it was revealed that night that Rees was acting as an uncompensated agent of the municipality — thus concealing its involvement and preventing that from affecting the bidding process.

Mount Airy officials disclosed that all discussions regarding such involvement had occurred during closed sessions, including a decision to commit public funds for the property acquisition. One board member has said the city government had been willing to spend up to $400,000 for the property.

The control of the Spencer’s site — specifically its future use — is considered vital to the future of downtown Mount Airy. The sale coincided with two related developments earlier this year.

One was the formation in April of a redevelopment commission, a seven-member group that will identify blighted areas and devise plans to make them economically viable. And on June 5, city officials approved an expansion of the downtown Municipal Service District to include the Spencer’s property.

This will allow that area to qualify for grants to aid redevelopment efforts.

The municipality did not buy all the property involved in the May 15 auction, but the majority of it — totaling about 9.5 acres. During the meeting on May 15, officials reported that the total cost to taxpayers would be $93,500, including $85,000 for Rees’ high bid for the largest of the two parcels, plus a 10 percent buyer’s premium.

But that has since been amended to the $92,381 expense that the commissioners will consider Thursday night in authorizing payment for the transaction and the mayor to execute related documents upon review and approval by City Attorney Hugh Campbell. His law firm stands to be paid $2,150 for title examination, document preparation and legal fees related to the purchase.

Also Thursday night, Mount Airy officials will discuss applying for historic mill tax credits to aid redevelopment of the Spencer’s property.

Public Hearing

Among other business Thursday, a public hearing is scheduled on a rezoning proposal affecting property at 140 Ruritan Lane, located near the intersection of North Franklin Road and West Pine Street (N.C. 89).

Franklin Ruritan Club is the owner of the 1.27-acre site.

Hull’s Sales Inc. on West Pine Street is petitioning for the zoning of the property to be changed from R-20 (residential) to B-4 (Highway Business). Citizens have a chance to weigh in on that change at Thursday’s hearing.

“They’re going to buy the property from the Ruritan Club and then combine it with their business,” city planner Andy Goodall said of Hull’s officials in explaining the reason for the rezoning request.

The site is within the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) zone, a one-mile area surrounding Mount Airy where land is subject to municipal zoning regulations.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.