After making a strong play for the county government to transfer its ownership of an athletic field in Mount Airy to the city, municipal officials now seem satisfied to simply renew a lease for the site.
“I don’t know that I would necessarily use the term ‘abandon,’” Mayor David Rowe said Tuesday of the latest development putting a halt to an ongoing effort by the city to obtain Graham Field.
“It’s just sort of put on hold,” Rowe said. “It was just a mutual agreement that leasing it would be better at this time.”
That lease is scheduled to be voted on Thursday by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners during a meeting beginning at 7 p.m.
Last winter, city officials launched their unsuccessful movement to persuade the Surry County Board of Commissioners to convey ownership of the field, located on Jones School Road, to the city government.
The facility is adjacent to L.H. Jones Family Resource Center. Both the field and center are on the grounds of the former J.J. Jones School which long has been property of the county, reflecting its traditional ownership of public school sites locally.
Graham Field, which is considered a top-notch Little League baseball facility, was completed in 2002 through a huge investment of money, time and other resources by a group in the city led by the late Scott Graham. Mount Airy began leasing the field in 2007 and the expiration of that 10-year agreement this year was a catalyst for city officials seeking its ownership.
In addition to the financial and other involvement city residents, businesses and groups have had in the site, this was aimed at ensuring it always would remain in the hands of the municipality where it is located.
“We’d love to have it,” Mayor Rowe added Tuesday of the city gaining ownership of the property from county officials, “but for whatever the reason they’d like to keep it.”
In balking at the idea, Surry commissioners have taken the position that transferring the field to Mount Airy would be a disservice to county taxpayers as a whole.
“I don’t see how it would benefit the citizens of Surry County to give property to the city or any other municipality,” Van Tucker, a county commissioner, said in May. Tucker pointed out that it was bought by the county using the tax dollars of all its residents.
Mayor Rowe said Tuesday that there is a bright side for the city.
“Leasing is cheaper anyway,” he said of various responsibilities that accompany ownership, “so that’s what we’ll do.”
The lease agreement to be voted on Thursday night states that the tenant (Mount Airy) will continue to organize, operate and oversee recreational programs at Graham Field, while also being responsible for all maintenance of grounds and buildings.
If approved by the city Thursday night, the lease will be in effect for a 10-year period expiring on Sept. 30, 2027.
The mayor says the city ownership quest might be revisited in the future, due to the private investment in Graham Field he believes justifies such a move, although county officials think differently.
“We just never did get to the conclusion of where we need to be,” said Rowe, who noted that the city didn’t push the issue “as hard as it could have.”
Spencer’s option action
Among other business during Thursday night’s meeting, the city commissioners are expected to take official action involving a developer seeking to re-use a portion of the former Spencer’s industrial property, who recently withdrew from the project.
Fabrica Development Inc., headed by local businessman Tom Webb, did so earlier this month after the commissioners postponed action on a request to amend his option agreement to acquire part of the property now owned by the city government for $35,000.
The request was aimed at changing the officially designated use proposed for the 1.33-acre parcel involved from a “business center” and “performing arts center” to include leasing part of the property to a tenant for “advanced” textile manufacturing.
The commissioners expressed concern during their Oct. 5 meeting about the change that would have accommodated a T-shirt manufacturing operation headed by Webb’s son.
They said manufacturing wasn’t part of the original plans, and other potential industrial users had not been given an opportunity to pursue a similar venture there which could be subsidized by historic tax credits available for the former textile mill’s redevelopment.
Webb also had sought to downgrade Fabrica’s investment in the site from $5 million to not less than $3 million.
After the commissioners declined to honor his option amendment request, saying they wanted to seek public input on the matter, Webb sent Mayor Rowe a letter stating that Fabrica would not be exercising its option rights, citing a lack of board support.
That prompted City Attorney Hugh Campbell to write Webb to say that the municipality had determined the developer’s decision “to be an abandonment and a mutual termination of the option agreement effective immediately.”
On Thursday, the commissioners are expected to officially ratify the mutual termination.
Two other developers still hold options for former Spencer’s property, who want to build a hotel/banquet center and upscale apartments there.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.