More questions posed on Barter/Spencer’s

By Tom Joyce -
Cawley -

During a June 7 city meeting, Commissioner Jon Cawley demanded more transparency by fellow city officials regarding efforts to redevelop former industrial property — and the passing of two weeks didn’t change anything.

At the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners’ most recent meeting Thursday night, Cawley — joined at times by Commissioner Jim Armbrister — again charged that details surrounding the Spencer’s redevelopment downtown, including a possible Barter Theatre expansion, are being kept secret.

“Somebody knows something that we (the full board) doesn’t know, or at least I don’t know,” Cawley said. “And the way I act sometimes, I can understand why you don’t tell me — but I’m still going to ask.”

Thursday night’s discussion grew heated at times, which included Mayor David Rowe asking Cawley at one point not to yell and Cawley seeking permission to be dismissed from the meeting — only to have that request denied by the mayor.

“Where is the truth?” asked Cawley, who continued a recent trend of accusing Commissioner Steve Yokeley of withholding details on efforts to bring the Barter Theatre to town.

“Steve seems to be the only one who knows,” Cawley added.

Building issue

sparks debate

Thursday night’s lengthy discussion involving the controversial Barter issue stemmed from a proposal before the board, advanced by City Attorney Hugh Campbell, concerning property at the Spencer’s site.

This basically was a continuation of action last December in which buildings in the former industrial complex, acquired by the city government in 2014, were sold to two developers seeking to build a hotel and upscale apartments. Those transactions had to occur by Dec. 31 in order for those projects to receive historic tax credits available to aid the transformation of former mill properties.

The December move also involved the conveyance of another building to Park Place LLC, an city-appointed entity created to take ownership of that particular location, independent of the city government, including the naming of a three-member board of directors. This was viewed as a legal maneuver to allow that property to also be eligible for tax credits.

However, a fourth structure inadvertently was omitted from the acquisition of a neighboring building by Park Place — collectively comprising what is known as “Lot 4” of the Spencer’s Mill Subdivision.

“It has been called The Cube — it has been called lots of things,” Campbell said of the structure in question.

“This building honestly just got left out of the mix,” the city attorney said. “It was overlooked in the rush to get everything done.”

Campbell asked the commissioners Thursday night to approve a “deed of correction” to convey the balance of Lot 4 to Park Place LLC. He said it is hoped that the move to fix this oversight, discovered earlier this year, would allow The Cube to also be eligible for tax credits.

Cawley skeptical

However, Cawley — while voicing his trust for the city attorney — seemed to take the position that there was more to the property conveyance than met the eye.

Some of his skepticism surrounds recent disclosures about the Barter Theatre part of the Spencer’s equation which would utilize property held by Park Place LLC. While the city government originally sought to develop the theatre, its plans were rejected as too risky in March by analysts with the Local Government Commission, a state agency that must approve such projects requiring public financing.

But recently, it was disclosed that Dana Bryson, the developer of the planned hotel, might also build the Barter Theatre and therefore make that project a private rather than public endeavor.

This led Cawley to suggest a tie-in involving the building already held by Park Place LLC and the additional one proposed.

He asked if the plan was to give all that property to Park Place so it can transfer it to Bryson to allow her to pursue the theatre. “If we do this tonight,” Cawley added, “could (it) be in the hands of Dana by suppertime tomorrow night?”

The city attorney responded that something along those lines could not occur without the commissioners’ approval, and that Park Place — which he is a board member of along with Gene Rees and Rodney Rosser — will act according to council wishes.

Campbell assured that there was no urgency involved with the proposed property conveyance Thursday night. “It’s nothing pressing.”

Cawley also reiterated concerns from the June 7 meeting, when he observed that a previously announced deadline of May 1 set by Bryson for the city to devise a firm plan for the Barter to generate hotel customers had quietly passed.

So has a stated June 18 deadline for construction to start at the Spencer’s site to meet tax credit requirements.

“We had tax credit deadlines that passed this week and nobody is building a thing down there,” Cawley said.

“It makes me think that everything we have been told is a lie … and I’m sick of it,” he remarked in leveling criticism toward Yokeley.

“You seem to want to accuse me of lots of things,” Yokeley responded.

“Who else knows what’s going on?” Cawley said in a loud voice.

This prompted the mayor to tell Cawley to hold it down and the latter to ask unsuccessfully to be dismissed from the meeting.

“I know what’s going on,” Rowe said in response to the question by Cawley, who was reminded that both Yokeley and the mayor were given permission by the board to re-approach the Local Government Commission with new information.

This includes efforts now under way to have Barter officials put “more skin in the game,” Rowe said, and make the expansion project less open-ended to the detriment of Mount Airy.

The mayor said he hopes to accomplish this process with board approval.

In the meantime, Campbell said the hotel and apartment developers have pursued demolition permits “to do what they can” to maintain tax credit eligibility.

Dissenters’ stance questioned

The commissioners approved the property transfer sought by Campbell in a 3-2 vote Thursday night, with Cawley and Armbrister the dissenters.

Armbrister indicated that he will be inclined to vote against all Spencer’s matters until he believes everything is being shared and not “withheld.”

“All I’m asking for is detailed information.”

However, Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said she couldn’t understand the opposition to the property-transfer measure.

“I don’t know why we are questioning this,” she said. “I think all he (the city attorney) wants is to correct the deed.”

Yokeley also expressed support for combining all the Lot 4 property.

“It’s an important part of the entire project,” he said, adding that not transferring all those holdings to Park Park LLC would be detrimental.

“I think it limits our ability to use the property and possibly sell it to another developer.”


By Tom Joyce

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

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