Mount Airy officials have delayed spending as much as $110,000 for an outside entity to help a new redevelopment commission get organized.
When tabling action on that expenditure during a meeting Thursday night, the city board of commissioners decided to let members of the fledgling group study proposals submitted by three organizations vying to provide advisory assistance. They will make a recommendation concerning that selection at an upcoming commissioners meeting.
“At this stage, we probably do need more organization and legal advice to make sure everything is done correctly,” said Tom Webb, a downtown businessman who is on the new redevelopment commission. Its other six members, including two city council members, also attended Thursday night’s meeting.
The redevelopment commission was formed in April to identify blighted commercial areas and devise plans for making them economically viable. Mount Airy officials later disclosed that the underlying reason for the group involved a need to control development of the former Spencer’s Inc. manufacturing site downtown, which the municipality bought at auction a month later.
Such a commission has more leeway than the city council in developing properties expediently. In addition to possessing the power of eminent domain, it has the authority to clear commercial property by razing existing buildings; install or construct site improvements; enter into contracts for construction, demolition, moving of structures and repair work; and implement programs of compulsory repair and rehabilitation using minimum building codes.
However, since creating the commission — which has yet to hold its first meeting — city leaders have acknowledged a need for an “advisory arm” to help launch its efforts.
This seems partly motivated by an urgency to begin revitalization efforts as soon as possible regarding the Spencer’s property to take advantage of tax credits or grants to aid its redevelopment which might not be available indefinitely. This includes assistance to mitigate any environmental issues encountered with the property.
The city government has looked to three different organizations to fill the advisory role: Benchmark, a Kannapolis-based firm that now provides planning, codes enforcement and other services here which the city chose to privatize in 2011; the School of Government of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Piedmont Triad Regional Council headquartered in Winston-Salem.
Each was asked to submit a bid to serve an advisory capacity with the new commission. “Some are similar, some are different,” City Manager Barbara Jones said of the services each offers to provide.
Benchmark’s price of $95,000 to $110,000 covers a scope of work of from eight to 10 months.
The Piedmont Triad Regional Council proposed a $36,000 cost, based on itemized charges for a list of services for a 2014-2015 time frame, some of which are blank.
And an “initial fee” of $40,000 was offered by the Development Finance Initiative of the School of Government for an agreement stretching from 2014 to 2017, reduced from $70,000 thanks to grant funding available to aid economically depressed areas.
During initial discussions of the proposals Thursday, Commissioner Steve Yokeley favored the School of Government as the lead agency, with assistance provided by the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, a consortium of local governments that provides technical help to members such as Mount Airy.
Yokeley said he was making this recommendation with the knowledge it would not please officials of Benchmark who were present Thursday night. They were there for an unrelated matter, the board’s approval of a $135,000 annual contract with Benchmark to cover the work it already is performing for the municipality.
Unlike the other two entities that are government-based and exist to serve the public interest, which explains their lower bids, Benchmark is a for-profit entity.
While the two Benchmark officials did defend their $95,000 to $110,000 proposal and the firm’s expertise to handle various aspects related to preparing the Spencer’s property to market to developers, this presented an awkward situation.
“It’s really not fair for you to be here to speak for your company and the others are not,” Commissioner Dean Brown said of the additional bidders.
That led to the decision to have the redevelopment commission members themselves study each proposal as a group. “I think it would be advantageous,” said the commission’s Chip Pulliam.
“We would like to come back with a recommendation,” Webb said.
Also at the meeting, the city commissioners:
• Voted to rezone a 1.27-acre site at 140 Ruritan Lane from R-20 (residential) to B-4 (Highway Business). The Franklin Ruritan Club is the owner of the property located near the intersection of North Franklin Road and West Pine Street (N.C. 89).
Hull Sales Inc. on West Pine Street petitioned for the rezoning as part of plans to buy the property from the Ruritan Club and combine it with Hull’s existing operation.
• Appointed two new members to the Mount Airy Appearance Commission, John Rees and Norma Hunter, for three-year terms to expire on June 30, 2017. They will replace Mimi Patterson and Linda Kniskern, who did not wish to be reappointed.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.