Mount Airy officials have voted to contract with a Charlotte attorney to help the city government with the process of redeveloping the former Spencer’s industrial property downtown.
The decision to enlist the aid of DeWitt F. “Mac” McCarley was unanimous among council members, who now are looking ahead to a much-awaited revitalization of that site.
“I think we made the right choice,” Mayor David Rowe said Monday regarding the arrangement with McCarley, who has much experience in the redevelopment field in roles encompassing both the public and private sectors.
“He thinks we have a great opportunity here to do good work for the city,” Rowe said.
The decision to contract with McCarley occurred Thursday after city officials discussed the matter in a closed session under the attorney-client privilege provision of state open meeting rules.
That is the latest development in a circuitous process that began with the municipality’s purchase in 2014 of the Spencer’s property, a sprawling complex of buildings that have sat vacant since infant-apparel manufacturing ceased there in 2007.
A seven-member redevelopment commission was formed soon after to guide revitalization with a goal of finding new uses for the property and creating jobs. But that group was disbanded earlier this year by the commissioners over a controversial inclusion of private property in its plan in addition to the public-owned Spencer’s site.
After that, the redevelopment task essentially was left to the city council, which decided that a third party was needed to help ensure Mount Airy’s interests were addressed in negotiations with potential developers for Spencer’s property. There are presently two suitors, with plans for a hotel/banquet center and upscale apartments.
Local officials had been negotiating for such expertise with the UNC School of Government in Chapel Hill, through its Development Finance Initiative (DFI) program established in 2011.
But Rowe said Monday the city government decided to go in a different direction, for two reasons.
One was financial in nature, including a $50,000 flat fee that the city was to pay to the Development Finance Initiative program, which would not have covered all the Chapel Hill group’s services. The balance over that was to be paid on an at-risk basis by developer(s) who partner with the municipality or to whom it transfers property.
That development services fee was to be 1 percent of the total project cost.
“We didn’t feel as if the developers would pay that fee, that was one thing,” Rowe explained regarding the change in direction. “And the second thing was, we felt like we needed a quick response.”
That involved the expectation of having questions answered or other matters addressed in a timely manner by UNC School of Government/Development Finance Initiative personnel, given its public sector rather than private sector makeup.
“None of us thought we were going to get the quick response from DFI, and that’s why we decided to look elsewhere,” Rowe added.
The Chapel Hill entity also seemed to be desiring a role of “master developer” in charge of the process. “That’s not what we thought was needed,” Rowe said.
McCarley highly regarded
The mayor explained that Mount Airy officials learned of McCarley’s existence through City Attorney Hugh Campbell, who has been heavily involved in recent redevelopment efforts along with Rowe and City Manager Barbara Jones.
“Hugh Campbell had run across Mr. McCarley and heard him make a speech,” said Rowe, who mentioned that other local officials also came to be impressed with the Charlotte lawyer and his enthusiasm for redevelopment.
“Mr. McCarley was a former city attorney in Charlotte,” Rowe said, as well as in Greenville, with his local government experience totaling 39 years. He has handled 20 to 25 redevelopment projects in a public sector capacity and another six or seven more through the Charlotte law firm with whom he’s now associated, Parker-Poe.
“So we chose him to move forward with what we’re trying to do,” Rowe said.
“He (McCarley) will be working with the city mayor and board of commissioners to meet the goals set by the board for this project and working to align the vision of developers and the city for an exciting outcome,” says a statement issued by the city manager’s office.
“Mr. McCarley brings great energy and excitement to this process.”
Rowe added that McCarley even devoted time this past weekend to pay a visit to Mount Airy and see the Spencer’s site up close.
“He came up on Saturday and he and Martin Collins (city community development director) walked through the buildings.” McCarley was quite excited about the potential of the property, Rowe said.
“And more than that, he was very enthusiastic about Mount Airy,” he said, after touring its downtown and other sections.
Rather than a flat fee, the new contract calls for McCarley to be paid at the rate of $375 per hour and the city to be billed monthly.
“He estimates 100 hours,” the mayor said of what the Spencer’s redevelopment will entail, pointing out that this represents a lower overall cost than that proposed by the UNC School of Government.
McCarley’s involvement will begin with identifying goals, growth and the impact on the Spencer’s property and surrounding area.
“We will be setting a date for a workshop to better define the goals of this development project,” the statement from the city manager’s office says.
“This will be an open meeting and we encourage citizens to attend. The date and time will be announced.”
Ironically, this was done early on in the redevelopment process, but the mayor deflected suggestions that the municipality was back at Square One in a sense.
Such projects often require a Plan B or Plan C if Plan A doesn’t work out, and Mount Airy has two developers “still very interested” in Spencer’s, he said
But they are eyeing only two or three of the roughly 20 structures that occupy the 10-acre site. “So we’re looking for suggestions about what to do with the rest of the property,” Rowe said.
One is for a farmers market to be put there.
There is some degree of urgency involved, due to projects needing to get under way in order to meet a timeline for receiving historic tax credits to aid the redevelopment.
“At the end of the day, we want all citizens to be proud of this development and hope to provide quality and sustainable development that helps with growth in our downtown and the surrounding properties,” Rowe stated.
“I feel this is an exciting opportunity and we are ready to get this ball rolling. Time is of the essence.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.