Last updated: July 16. 2014 4:31PM - 640 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

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Along with stirring up unrest among local residents, a newly formed redevelopment commission in Mount Airy could pose a major financial cost for taxpayers.

The city board of commissioners tonight is scheduled to discuss proposals from three different entities seeking to serve as what Mayor Deborah Cochran has called the “advisory arm” of the commission. It was approved by the board in a split vote on April 3 to identify blighted areas in the city and develop plans for making these economically viable.

Vying to provide expertise to guide the new group’s work are Benchmark, a Kannapolis-based firm that now provides planning and other services here which the city has chosen to privatize; the School of Government of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Piedmont Triad Regional Council headquartered in Winston-Salem.

In anticipation of today’s council meeting at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Building, each submitted proposals for serving as the advisory arm for and providing technical assistance to the commission.

Starting with the highest, these range from an offer from Benchmark of $95,000 to $110,000 to cover a scope of work of from eight to 10 months; at least $36,000 from the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, based on itemized charges for a list of services covering a 2014-2015 time frame, some of which are blank; and an “initial fee” of $40,000 from the Development Finance Initiative of the School of Government.

The fee from the latter normally would be $70,000, but due to Surry’s status as a Tier 1 county, the School of Government would be able to offset that cost with grant funding received to support its work in rural counties, according to the proposal. The cost cited is for an agreement stretching from 2014 to 2017.

Spencer’s Targeted

When plans for the redevelopment commission were laid out during the winter, Mount Airy officials said it would identify blighted areas on a general basis in town and devise plans for improving them.

This alarmed some citizens, who saw the group as a threat due to the extensive powers it will wield, including being able to seize private property by eminent domain, and they also feared it would be a mechanism for tearing down houses deemed unsightly. The commissioners later limited the scope to commercial properties.

But after the city bought former Spencer’s Inc. apparel company properties downtown during an absolute auction in May, officials revealed the focus of the commission would be on redeveloping that site.

Efforts to revitalize this area are reflected in the proposals from Benchmark, the Piedmont Triad Regional Council and the School of Government, which specifically mention it for the scope of work proposed.

Examples of the collective services that would be performed are determining financing plans for the new use of the Spencer’s property; researching grant opportunities for the cost of that, and applying for such assistance; educating members of the new city commission in the redevelopment process; guidance in forging a redevelopment master plan; facilitating public feedback; and marketing the site to developers, among others.

The redevelopment commission — a seven-member group composed of five citizens from the community at large and two city commissioners — is empowered 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.

For its park, Benchmark says the potential $110,000 fee it cites represents “a starting point” that would be subject to negotiations with municipal officials to determine a final scope of work and cost.

In other action tonight, the commissioners will consider approving a $135,000 annual contract with Benchmark to cover the work it already is performing for the city.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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