City declines to accept Spencer’s options

By Tom Joyce -

Mount Airy’s new mayor, David Rowe, prepares to preside over his first city council meeting Thursday night.

Tom Joyce | The News

Mount Airy officials decided Thursday night not to accept options on former Spencer’s Inc. property and to further market the site, but also don’t want to alienate the two developers who submitted the option offers.

“I’d just like to say I think we need to be very nice to those developers,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley said before the city council voted to decline their offers at this time. The commissioners also decided in a second vote to hire an agent to continue negotiations with them as part of the marketing process for the city-owned Spencer’s property.

The two offers had been submitted by Brookstown Hospitality, LLC, a Winston-Salem development group, and an entity known as Multifamily Select Inc. (MSI), based in Matthews.

Brookstown Hospitality owns and operates facilities including Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem and The Village Inn Event Center in Clemmons. It has proposed a “historic boutique hotel” and banquet center for a section of the Spencer’s property which would offer four-star lodging accommodations with 70 to 85 rooms.

Multifamily Select Inc. has expressed interest in developing a market-rate rental loft housing complex in another area at the Spencer’s site, consisting of about 80 units geared toward young professionals and entrepreneurs.

The Brookstown project has an estimated construction cost of $11.5 million, while the Multifamily Select project is put at $12 million.

“Anyone that’s willing to come spend $12 million apiece,” Yokeley said, “I think we need to give them the utmost respect.”

Timing not right

Mount Airy officials seemed in agreement Thursday night that the two developers making offers have outlined worthy projects for the city property, and both have proven track records of successful projects in other communities.

However, their tone was that the city shouldn’t make a decision at this time and thereby limit itself, and instead try to broaden the scope of would-be developers through more marketing of the Spencer’s buildings.

Brookstown Hospitality and Multifamily Select Inc. were among four developers who originally submitted proposals for projects at the Spencer’s site in October. But two of those, who proposed an entertainment complex and another housing project, later withdrew from consideration.

In making a motion Thursday night not to accept the two offers now on the table, Commissioner Jim Armbrister said he believes negotiations should continue with them. “And I further move that the commissioners continue marketing of the Spencer’s property.”

Other officials agreed that was the right step at this time.

“I think the motion is extremely well-timed,” another board member, Jon Cawley, said regarding the options from the two remaining developers, who each have offered $35,000 for the sites they are eyeing for a term of two years. Acceptance of the options would allow them to execute the actual property purchase anytime within that period.

But Cawley agreed that the city should maintain good relations with the two.

“We’re dealing with two people who seem very interested in developing their projects in Mount Airy,” he added of officials with Brookstown Hospitality and Multifamily Select Inc. Cawley said they “are people we want in Mount Airy.”

The seeking of developers to breathe new life into the old Spencer’s buildings that are painted baby blue — where infant apparel production ceased in 2007 — is part of a revitalization plan for the site which has not received final approval.

“It seems to me that with no vote on the plan yet, it does not seem to be the right time,” Cawley said of accepting the two option offers.

He also pointed out that doing so Thursday night would have locked in the $35,000 purchase offers from both developers — with no discussion about price having been held among board members.

Yokeley, meanwhile, mentioned that the offers now on the table represent months of work on the part of the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission, which he chairs, and should not go to waste. The developers have proposed projects city officials “certainly don’t want to lose,” Yokeley added.

“I think you’re 100-percent correct,” Mayor David Rowe, who was presiding over his first council meeting, said of Yokeley’s concerns.

The board voted unanimously in favor of a recommendation by Yokeley that Mount Airy secure the services of an “agent” to continue working with the two developers. “I’d like to see them negotiate on our behalf,” Yokeley said of an agent.

He suggested that such assistance be sought from the North Carolina Institute of Government, which provides services to localities, and if it is unavailable, then someone else with expertise should be recruited to serve as an agent.

Based on Thursday’s discussion, the agent not only would work with the developers now involved, but field and process inquiries from others.

There is a certain sense of urgency involved, due to a deadline looming for projects at Spencer’s to qualify for tax credits available to aid the conversion of former industrial properties with historic architectural value for new uses.

“I’m really eager to see the Spencer’s property get moving,” Commissioner Dean Brown said of the revitalization effort.

“I’ve even thought about volunteering to go down there and chip away at some of the concrete,” Brown continued, “scrape that stupid blue paint off that building.”

Rezoning approved

In a separate action Thursday night, the city commissioners voted unanimously to rezone property in the vicinity of Spencer’s.

This involves five parcels, at 227, 235, 239 and 249 Market St. and the 200 block of Willow Street, which amount to about a half-acre altogether.

They were rezoned from M-1 (industrial) to B-1 (central business).

The zoning change was requested by two local entities that own the parcels, Granite City Market, LLC, and REF Properties, LLC.

It reflects the fact that the property no longer is used for industry, with the rezoning serving to remove a remaining M-1 (industrial) classification from Market Street and a sliver from Willow Street. This will permit retail and office-type uses for the five sites which are consistent with those in downtown Mount Airy.

The rezoning was approved after no one spoke against it at a public hearing held Thursday night.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Mount Airy’s new mayor, David Rowe, prepares to preside over his first city council meeting Thursday night. Airy’s new mayor, David Rowe, prepares to preside over his first city council meeting Thursday night. Tom Joyce | The News

By Tom Joyce

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