Carroll Properties has had control of the Oak-Emerson-Maple parcels north of downtown for several years, with plans to construct a high-rise rental apartment complex at 1890 Maple Ave. and a high-rise condominium building at 1881 Oak Ave.
The developer, Robert King of Carroll Properties, has obtained concessions in the form of zoning relief and construction extensions from the City, over the objections of some residents, at least one alderman, and, in one instance, the Plan Commission.
Now Mr. King is asking the City for $1.9 million to help him make the development profitable. His request is for $1.5 million from the funds in the Downtown II TIF (tax-increment financing district) and $400,000 in sales-tax reimbursement.
The Downtown II TIF expires in December of this year, and all its funds must be disbursed at its close. Under this proposal, the developer would keep the $1.5 million in escrow until construction begins – which, by recent permission of the City Council, may not occur until October of 2013. After the development opens, the developer then wishes to obtain another $400,000 in sales-tax revenues from the City.
All this, according to a letter to Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell from the developer’s attorney David Reifman, is to make the development profitable.
The developer has enumerated several benefits for the City should his project obtain the City money and proceed: increased sales and property taxes, job opportunities, new building-permit fees, and, of course, the grocery store. Though not on the attorney’s list, the fact that the proposal is for rental apartments rather than condominums may be considered a plus, given that City officials have said recently there is a shortage of rental housing housing here.
Nonetheless, we think this proposal is risky, unwise, arrogant and, well, preposterous.
The 1890 Maple Ave. project has seemed a bait-and-switch. On the eve of the first Council vote on the project, the developer’s attorney announced he had a letter of intent from Trader Joe’s – a division of Aldi foods – to establish a store in the development. All was quiet for a while, until February, when the developer received an extension of time to begin construction on the project, dangling the promise of a Trader Joe’s before a salivating City Council. Shortly after the City granted the extension, Trader Joe’s said they would have no store there.
City staff members have already said they believe the developer’s request poses “unacceptable risk for the City.”
We could not agree more, and we add this reason. We do not believe the City – ultimately, the taxpayers – should pay $1.5 million in TIF or other City funds to a developer so the developer can earn an 8 percent return on the project.
We do not believe the taxpayers should be asked to guarantee any developer an 8 percent return on any project, particularly at a time when many residents themselves are struggling.
If there is a surplus of funds when the TIF expires, giving them to Carroll Properties would prevent their distribution to the two school districts and other taxing bodies, which are all facing projected deficits.
City staff members have said they would work with the developer to obtain federal stimulus money.
While that route still involves public money for private development, we think that is the wiser course. Perhaps in the meantime, Mr. King could work on the design of the 1890 Maple Ave. project (and possibly the 1881 Oak Ave. one as well) to make them more appealing and more in harmony with the surrounding area: lower height, LEED certification, more open public space.