Efforts to revamp the Spencer’s Inc. complex in Mount Airy for new uses are running behind, officials say.
However, a push is on to get the project back on track and meeting benchmarks set for the redevelopment of facilities where infant apparel was once manufactured. Included is one aimed at having it qualify for historic mill tax credits deemed vital to the plans.
Word of the delay emerged during a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting last Thursday, when the board approved appropriating more city funding than originally planned for “pre-development” activities at the former Spencer’s property now owned by the municipal government.
In July of last year, the commissioners had voted to allocate “up to” $382,500 for those activities to prepare the site for planned new uses such as a hotel, upscale apartments and an entertainment venue. Items such as engineering studies and architectural drawings needed up front were cited.
However, the action taken last Thursday exceeds that $382,500 ceiling by more than $30,000, City Manager Barbara Jones said Monday, taking it past the $400,000 level. The extra money is needed to complete a necessary brownfield agreement, which is issued for abandoned sites such as old manufacturing plants where the former presence of underground fuel tanks or other issues could affect redevelopment.
“It puts a cap on liability,” City Attorney Hugh Campbell explained during Thursday’s meeting regarding a brownfield agreement’s purpose.
“So it’s in the city’s best interest to complete the brownfield agreement,” Campbell said.
The commissioners’ discussion of the funding appropriation also opened the door to the revelation that the Spencer’s redevelopment is presently behind schedule.
That door was cracked during a public forum portion of the meeting, when local citizen John Pritchard questioned the status of the timetable in light of the upcoming vote on funding, which would be 5-0. “Is the Spencer’s redevelopment on track and on the timeline it’s supposed to be on?” Pritchard asked.
No officials responded at that time — conforming to the protocol for public forum comments — but Commissioner Jon Cawley revisited the question later in the meeting when the funding issue was considered.
“Is it appropriate for us to answer that question?” Cawley said in reference to what Pritchard had asked, including whether anticipated benchmarks had been met.
“No, sir, they are not on time,” replied Campbell, who has worked closely with the potential hotel and other developers through his role as city attorney. “At this time they are not on schedule.”
Campbell said “the benchmarks have not been met — the developers acknowledge they haven’t been met.”
The city attorney explained after the meeting that conceptual drawings were supposed to have been completed by now.
A contract forged last summer required the private developers to engage architects and engineers acceptable to the city in order to prepare such drawings.
Also, they were to have completed an application for the second part of process to secure historic tax credits for the redevelopment, the city attorney said, for which an August deadline looms.
“We thought we’d be further along by this point,” Campbell said of the benchmarks.
“But we are working with the developers,” he added, “to get us back on a fast track.”
The attorney said an update on the situation is expected to be provided during a commissioners meeting in April.
He said Monday that the developers “feel like they’re still on line” to accomplish the necessary steps.
“This is a very complex process.”
A payoff of $117,990 in combined annual property tax revenues is anticipated by the municipality from the three projects, in addition to other possible revenues generated as a result.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.