Here is an aspect that seems to have been overlooked in the hoopla following Mayor Nancy Vaughan’s Monday, April 23 call to Roy Carroll to inform him that the negotiations were over to build a city-owned parking deck on his property at the corner of Bellemeade and Eugene streets in downtown Greensboro.
Vaughan, as mayor, doesn’t have the authority to cancel a deal approved by a vote of the Greensboro City Council, or at least that’s what a number of city councilmembers think.
The Greensboro City Council held a work session, a closed session and a regular business meeting on Tuesday, April 24, as well as a work session and a regular meeting on Tuesday, May 1. If Vaughan and retired (as of May 1) City Manager Jim Westmoreland believed it was in the city’s best interest to cancel the agreement with Carroll to negotiate to build a parking deck on his property, they should have put the issue before the City Council for a vote.
This is not a topic that can legally be decided in closed session, and since the decision was made to stop negotiating with Carroll, who owns this newspaper, and start the process of building a different parking deck across the street, the matter has not been discussed in open session.
City Attorney Tom Carruthers could, in closed session, advise the City Council of the legal ramifications of cancelling the agreement with Carroll, but the political and financial aspects of such a decision would have to be discussed and the decision made in open session, as was the resolution to enter into negotiations and allocate up to $2 million for the design of the parking deck.
Timing seems to be the issue, but there is also disagreement about who knew what about the deadlines for the project.
Interim City Manager David Parrish is quoted by the News & Record as saying about Carroll, “He knew the timing and requirements for the other projects. He knew it all along.”
Carroll is adamant that he was never given any deadline for an agreement to be reached.
Carroll said that he was shocked that the city was suddenly pulling the plug on the project.
Both Vaughan and Westmoreland indicated that they were concerned about making the deadline for Project Slugger, which is a six-story office building planned for the First National Bank Field property at the corner of Eugene and Bellemeade streets.
So the question is: Where is the City Council on this decision made by Vaughan and Westmoreland?
If the City Council believes that it is in the best interest of the city to continue the negotiations, then they can order the interim city manager to humbly ask Carroll if he will take up the negotiations where Westmoreland left off.
The City Council could, if it desired to exhibit some leadership, order the interim city manager not to leave the table until negotiations were complete.
Carroll noted that the public parking deck is part of a $100 million building he plans to build on that site, so the negotiations are complicated.
But for the city to give up the opportunity for a $100 million building downtown to accommodate parking requirements for a six-story office building doesn’t make sense.
The voters of Greensboro elected the nine members of the City Council to run the city; nobody elected the city staff to do anything. The way the city government is supposed to work is that the City Council makes decisions and the staff implements those decisions.
Right now, too often it is the staff calling the shots and it couldn’t be clearer than in this case where the City Council passed two separate resolutions to negotiate a deal with Carroll, and Westmoreland, with the support of one councilmember – Mayor Vaughan – chose to walk away from the table and pursue an option that the City Council had not even discussed.
What both Carroll and Vaughan said is that, in their conversation, Vaughan said that the city had run out of time and had to explore other options to provide parking for Project Slugger.
Carroll said that at the last meeting with city officials, the city had asked for more information, which his staff was in the process of providing when he received the call from Vaughan. Carroll said he thought the call was to set up another meeting and instead it was for Vaughan to tell him negotiations were off.
If the city did in fact have a deadline, why wouldn’t they inform Carroll before the deadline so that negotiations could be ramped up? To request more information and then cancel the negotiations before the information could be provided is an indication that the decision was made to cancel negotiations and then a reason was found.
The penalty for the city not providing the parking spaces for Project Slugger on time is not a severe one. It would probably cost the city about $3,000 a month in lost parking fees. For a city with a budget of over half a billion dollars, that’s not going to break the bank. And when you consider that the city will lose over $300,000 in design fees already paid to Carroll, it doesn’t make fiscal sense.
You never know for sure until they vote, but it appears the majority of city councilmembers don’t support the idea of ending the negotiations with Carroll.
City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson said that she planned to talk to Carroll this week to see what could be done to get negotiations going again.
Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann said, “Some of us want the negotiations to continue. I’m hopeful that’s where we’re going.”
Hoffmann said that she wasn’t opposed to having a second option but that the city had to consider “that we’re building a parking garage for the next 50 years, so it’s important that we get it right.” She said that, from the information she had, it appeared the parking deck to be built with Carroll had some advantages over the new one that was proposed last week. She said, “It makes sense to have two tracks you can go down, so if one situation doesn’t work you have a decent alternative.”
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter said, “I don’t think we have closed the door on all of this. I don’t think we have totally said we don’t want to discuss it with Mr. Carroll.”
She said that a decision to build any parking deck would have to be a City Council decision, not a decision made by the mayor and city manager. “It’s the whole council. It takes five votes.”
City Councilmember Justin Outling said, “I don’t think it is a done deal from a council perspective. Ultimately the City Council will make the decision.”
Outling said, “Whatever five members on the City Council decide will happen.”
Outling added, “I don’t think it makes much sense to end the discussions right now. Any astute business person knows what their options are and, strategically, if you have an option B, it doesn’t make sense to broadcast to the world that you no longer have an option A.”
One thing that every councilmember asked agrees on is that nothing is going to happen without five city councilmembers voting for it.
According to Westmoreland, the city has already paid Carroll over $300,000 for work on designing the parking deck. If the five members of the City Council decide that deck is not going to be built, that is money down the drain as far as the city is concerned. But it may be just be a drop in the bucket for what abandoning the parking deck could cost the city if things deteriorate to the point that Carroll decides he has to take legal action to recover the cost he has incurred while negotiating in good faith to reach an agreement with the city.
The city didn’t do very well with the lawsuit over the February One Place-Westin Hotel parking deck. It was settled out of court, but it cost the city right at $1 million for easements the City Council was told by staff were worth $55,000.
If time is the issue, why hasn’t the City Council already met to decide how the city is going to go forward? If the city is going to build a stand-alone parking deck on a different piece of property – something the City Council has been opposed to in the past and would be a deviation from how cities are currently building parking decks – it needs council approval as soon as possible, which would have been last week.
One more note: Many comments on social media and letters to the editor have questioned why the city would build a parking deck for a wealthy developer. But the commenters have it backwards. The city came to Carroll and asked him to build the parking deck for the city to provide parking for Project Slugger.
The city at the time knew that Carroll wasn’t ready to move forward with his hotel, office and residential tower, but Carroll agreed to build the city-owned parking deck first, to benefit the city and that area where he already has a considerable investment.