Avondale Estates City Commission holds special work session on development of city-owned property
By Sara Amis, contributor
The Avondale Estates Board of Mayor and Commissioners called a special work session June 3 to further discuss a plan to develop the area around four acres of city-owned land on North Avondale Road.
That project along with three storm water projects would be the responsibility of a proposed Urban Redevelopment Agency which would allow the city to negotiate directly with developers and establish a line of credit using a bond anticipation note. The city plans to hire Bleakly Advisory Group to conduct a financial feasibility analysis and assist in negotiations.
Public comment initially focused on questions about how the city would pay for the project and fears that it would lead to raised taxes for seniors and other people on limited incomes.
Mayor Jonathan Elmore emphasized that the $8.4 million figure mentioned in Davenport’s recommendations is a maximum and the city would only borrow what was necessary, however “based on our existing revenue, we can pay that note. So the whole point of this is there is no increase in taxes.”
“The bond anticipatory note mechanism is one that would allow the city to borrow funds in order to finance these projects without increasing the millage rate, for the life of the borrow,” added City Manager Patrick Bryant.
Elmore said this would be a long-term investment in the city.
“We want to create something, with the park especially, that’s going to be here for the next 100 years,” he said. “My schtick was, responsible growth to ensure the future of the city. We do have future streams of revenue to help pay for things that are not getting cheaper, that are breaking like storm water. So we’re looking to the future, and I think that’s our job, frankly.”
Dee Merriam, a member of the city’s Greenspace Ad Hoc Committee, described the proposed development design of a park and buildings between the park and the street as “very broad concepts” and asked if there would be opportunities to revisit them.
Speaking of the commercial parts of the concept, Merriam asked, “Is the key goal paying for the development, or to move the city toward place-making, because they may give you very different answers.”
Commissioner Lisa Shortell responded, “The board has pretty much committed to, and has consensus around, the goal being place-making.”
Commissioner Lionel Laratte spoke of seeking a balance between the two.
“Place-making is not intended to be profitable, but all of us understand that we have a financial responsibility to the city as well,” he said.
When asked to define place-making, Mayor Elmore described it as more focused on urban design on the front end, saying, “We’re trying to create something special, because this is a special city.”
Shortell added, “It’s also designing to attract specific kinds of businesses, to attract the arts community that we’ve all said we want in our downtown. We have a certain vision for our city, and the design helps that vision become a reality.”
Former mayor Ed Reiker asked about the transparency of decisions being made.
Bryant emphasized that all major decisions would be subject to board approval and that public input would inform negotiations with the developer.
“They will make proposals and we will counter, and there will be a public process built into it,” said Bryant.
Laratte wanted to know why the city could not ask for a proposal from the developer before making a decision. Bryant’s response was that the only way to do that would be through a formal Request for Proposal process, which would constrain the city’s ability to negotiate.
Jonathan Gelber of Bleakly Advisory Group said, “It’s very easy to say ‘I’m going to call for a proposal’ when you’re talking about something like police cars or pencils. We are talking about a mixed-use development which is an extremely complicated thing especially mixed use that has public-private elements. So this is not a situation where you can say, ‘Developers, give me your proposals, go!’ because there are so many unknowns. This is going to be an iterative process.”
Shortell said the project has been discussed for a long time.
“All of these projects are in the downtown master plan and have been talked about for years,” she said. “With the possible exception of the storm water plan which is sorely needed. There’s nothing in these plans that hasn’t been discussed many, many times. What we’re proposing is a vehicle to help us get them done.”