The city of Mount Airy has parted ways with a Charlotte attorney who was hired two years ago to aid the redevelopment of the former Spencer’s industrial property downtown.
“We don’t need Mac’s services anymore,” Mayor David Rowe said Friday of DeWitt F. “Mac” McCarley.
McCarley, of the Parker Poe law firm in the Queen City, was contracted by the city government in April 2016 to assist with the transformation of the former industrial property it bought in 2014 to new uses.
Mount Airy officials were happy at the time to engage a recognized expert in the redevelopment field with 20 to 25 public-sector projects under his belt.
During McCarley’s time assisting Mount Airy, two out-of-town developers were enlisted for the sprawling Spencer’s site, one desiring to build a four-star hotel/banquet center with 90 rooms and the other an upscale apartment complex of 67 units.
Both parties entered into development agreements and exercised options to buy their respective portions of the Spencer’s property in December, and the next month it was announced that the Virginia-based Barter Theatre also might expand on the site.
“He had a task, which he accomplished,” Mayor Rowe said Friday of McCarley. “And that was the delivery of the two developers and the contracts and also dealing with the Barter to get them on board.”
The mayor added that the Charlotte lawyer “did what we asked him to do” as far as completing the contracting process with the hotel and apartment developers.
“And now it’s up to the commissioners to move ahead with what he has given us,” Rowe said.
‘Gaps’ with state commission
There are signs that the relationship between the city and McCarley soured recently with regard to the Barter Theatre portion of the redevelopment effort.
“You’re aware of the LGC roadblock,” the mayor said Friday of a March 22 ruling by a subcommittee of the North Carolina Local Government Commission. It is an oversight agency that must approve plans by localities for such major projects involving long-term bond or loan arrangements which could put them at financial risk to the detriment of taxpayers.
The subcommittee, in a pre-application meeting with local officials, ruled that the Barter Theatre project was too “risky” for Mount Airy, given its plans to borrow $7 million. Much of the project’s success has been based on hopes and speculations, including strong ticket sales, more sales tax revenues and economic growth generated from the Barter presence to offset the expense.
“I think he did what we asked him to,” Rowe said of McCarley, while also indicating that there were “gaps” in his services related to the Barter project which led to the negative result on March 22.
“If we had been better prepared for that, it might have gone better,” Rowe said of the meeting.
On April 19, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners — in separate 3-2 votes — approved spending $100,000 for a financial adviser and $5,000 for another attorney to prepare city officials for a second Local Government Commission meeting. The mayor said Friday that no date had been set for that session, to allow a new pitch to be made which might prove successful.
In a closed session after the open portion of the April 19 council meeting, the decision was made to sever ties with McCarley.
The mayor said the decision to part ways with the attorney was unanimous.
“We will still use Parker Poe,” Rowe said of McCarley’s law firm, whose services will be needed for the bond program to finance the Barter Theatre expansion if the situation progresses to that point.
The mayor also responded Friday to the question of whether Mount Airy leaders as a whole considered the performance of McCarley to be satisfactory.
“I suppose to some perhaps (it was), but some others perhaps not.”
Whether or not the split can be described as amicable depends on who is asked, Rowe suggested.
“It should be amicable on his part anyway,” the mayor said of McCarley. “Especially considering how much we paid him.”
It originally was estimated that the services provided by the Charlotte attorney would have a total cost of $37,500, based on an hourly rate of $375 and 100 hours of work estimated to be required for various redevelopment tasks.
But that expense has greatly ballooned, according to City Manager Barbara Jones.
“To date the city has paid Parker Poe $206,533, which is payment through Jan. 31, 2018,” Jones reported at the end of last week regarding work provided by McCarley, which does not include billed services since late January.
“That covers everything that we have received to date,” the city manager added on April 19.
“We have not yet received anything for February or March.”
In the attorney’s defense, Mayor Rowe has said he was asked to do additional things as time went on which were not envisioned when the agreement was forged in 2016.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.