Little information has surfaced publicly recently regarding plans for redeveloping the former Spencer’s Inc. industrial property in downtown Mount Airy, with all such discussions by city officials occurring behind closed doors.
During the last two meetings of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, council members have ended the open portion of the meetings by moving into closed sessions to discuss matters relating to economic development and the attorney-client privilege.
Those are among the allowable reasons a public body may discuss matters in private, under the North Carolina Open Meetings Law.
Closed sessions were held when the city board met last Thursday night and during its previous meeting on Sept. 7. In addition, municipal officials held a special closed-door meeting on Aug. 22 to discuss economic-development issues.
No votes occurred after any of those closed sessions, which included discussions regarding the Spencer’s property the city government bought in 2014 and private developers now are eyeing for facilities including a hotel/banquet center and upscale apartments.
“Not all of it, but much of it has been” related to the redevelopment project, Mayor David Rowe said of the recent discussions occurring outside the public eye.
After meeting in open session for around 90 minutes Thursday, city officials moved behind closed doors for about three hours, which City Attorney Hugh Campbell said afterward included talk about the Spencer’s redevelopment as well as other topics.
Three prospective developers presently hold options to buy portions of the sprawling 10-acre Spencer’s complex containing more than 20 structures.
They are seeking to reconfigure the former textile-manufacturing space for use as the hotel/banquet center, apartments and what has been described as an advanced textile manufacturing entity. The latter also would include “maker space” work stations where various artisans and crafters can create items, according to a presentation earlier this year.
While few details have emerged about the latest status of those plans, Mayor Rowe said the fact discussions have been occurring regarding the redevelopment — albeit behind closed doors — should be viewed positively by citizens.
“We’re still talking about it — that’s a good sign,” he said.
“Otherwise we would have been moving on,” the mayor added.
Tax credit applications
One tangible step that has occurred recently involved plans by the three developers to apply for historic state tax credits deemed vital to the project.
“That did happen,” Campbell, the city attorney, said of their applications being submitted in August.
Those credits are available to support new uses for former textile mills, adapting the facilities for the modern world and the creation of jobs while preserving their architectural integrity. Tax credits provide a financial incentive to developers to help offset additional costs associated with rehabilitating historic buildings.
Campbell said the outcome of the tax credit applications could be known within about a month or so.
The city attorney deferred other questions to DeWitt F. “Mac” McCarley, a Charlotte lawyer and redevelopment expert whom Mount Airy officials contracted with in April 2016 to aid the city with the process. McCarley declined to comment on the project’s status Tuesday afternoon, saying he needed permission from the city government before supplying such input.
The respective plans by the three developers represent a total investment of $28.5 million, which would boost Mount Airy’s tax base along with providing new employment opportunities for local residents.
Also during their meeting Thursday night, the city commissioners voted 4-0, with Commissioner Steve Yokeley absent, in favor of appointments and reappointments to several groups under their purview. These included:
• The reappointments of Cindy Wilson and Tracy Greenwood to new three-year terms on the Mount Airy Recycling Advisory Committee which will expire on Oct. 31, 2020.
• Hattie Brintle being added to the Mount Airy Library Board to replace Cooper Adams, who elected not to be reappointed after his term expired in June. The three-year term Brintle was approved for expires on June 30, 2020.
• The reapppointment of Dr. Hugh Sutphin to the Mount Airy ABC Board for a three-year stint that ends on Oct. 31, 2020.
• Jerry McMickle’s appointment to the city housing authority board to serve out the unexpired term of Bertie S. George, who resigned on Aug. 4 for health reasons. It ends on Feb. 16, 2020.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.