A request by a local businessman, who is one of three developers holding options to buy portions of the former Spencer’s industrial property in downtown Mount Airy, hit a snag Thursday when a decision on it was delayed.
Tom Webb was seeking to alter his option agreement forged last year, when the city government also entered into similar pacts with the two others interested in redeveloping parts of the property for a hotel/banquet center and upscale apartments.
The Spencer’s site was bought in 2014 by the city government, which has since been pursuing such projects to breathe new life into the former industrial complex that ceased operations in 2007.
Webb’s original option states that the 1.33-acre parcel he optioned, containing a Spencer’s building located to the rear of others fronting Willow Street, was intended for a “business center” and a “performing arts center.” The estimated construction cost for those was put at around $5 million.
But the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners was asked during a meeting Thursday afternoon to approve changes in that wording to specify a manufacturing use for what is known as “Building Number Nine.”
The request to the board affecting Fabrica Development Inc., an entity Webb is listed as the president of, was intended to make clear that the future use of that site could include leasing part of the property to a tenant for textile manufacturing.
Webb still plans to develop a “maker space” at the site, where work stations would be available for various artisans and crafters to create items, as he announced earlier this year. It would occupy a lower portion of the building, while the textile-manufacturing component is eyed for the upper space.
Fabrica also seeks to develop a small performing arts theater noted in the option agreement, to be operated at no cost to city government as stated in the modification request.
Public input sought
However, members of the city board had problems Thursday with changing the option agreement. They voted 5-0 to postpone a decision regarding it to their next meeting on Oct. 19.
Commissioner Jim Armbrister, who introduced the motion to this effect, said that since public input has been a big part of the redevelopment process thus far, citizens’ opinions should help guide any action to modify the agreement.
“I just think public involvement needs to be there to make this decision,” added Armbrister, who indicated that the board was caught cold by the request. “We haven’t had time to study it,” he said of commissioners needing a chance to devote proper thought to the matter and allowing the public to do the same.
Armbrister said he hopes citizens will express their concerns to the board regarding the proposed changes, which also call for reducing the construction cost for the Fabrica development from $5 million to not less than $3 million.
Commissioner Jon Cawley said he had problems with how the “manufacturing” use has been injected into the option equation, noting that the original “business center” wording does not necessarily indicate that.
“If you’re going to manufacture in that space, then say it,” Cawley added.
The North Ward commissioner said he was “not comfortable” with such a change because of how it affects others who might have wanted an opportunity to participate in the Spencer’s redevelopment from a manufacturing standpoint.
Cawley also said he wanted to know more about the performing arts theater cited, which produced much excitement when initially announced. “I would like to see some definition of how many seats we’re looking at, what kind of performances we’re talking about.”
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley expressed concern Thursday about “heavy-duty” trucks going to and from the manufacturing space which might increase infrastructure costs for the redevelopment area. “How much is the city going to have to dish out?” Brinkley asked.
While saying the answer to that question can’t be provided until conceptual drawings are prepared, City Attorney Hugh Campbell — who has been working closely with the Spencer’s effort — did point out that using Building Nine is a challenge in itself.
“It’s the largest and most complicated to redevelop,” Campbell said.
While voting in favor of the motion to postpone action on the modified option agreement, Commissioner Steve Yokeley said the amended plan by Webb specifying the textile-manufacturing component does have promise.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” Yokeley said, for an area that is “hard to develop.”
Webb did not attend Thursday’s meeting, which Commissioner Brinkley made mention of as the board moved toward postponing the matter to its next one.
“And maybe by then, Tom can come.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.