With no discussion or explanation about what they were doing, the City Council on Tuesday, April 18, approved spending approximately $30 million to purchase land and build a six-story parking deck to facilitate the construction of an 11-story 180-room Westin Hotel by Elm Street Hotel LLC at 203 South Elm St., the current site of the Elm Street Center.
The City Council unanimously passed a motion to enter into a contract with the developer to design the parking structure for not more than $2 million. The city also approved the purchase of 116 East Market St. for $1.025 million. The purchase of land along Davie Street for $2.1 million and the cost of building the parking deck at $26 million.
What made this truly bizarre is that no one on the City Council said anything about the Westin Hotel that will be built on top of the parking deck.
City Councilmember Tony Wilkins asked a couple of questions about where the money for this project was coming from, but no one said anything about the need for an 850-space parking deck, which will stretch from East Market Street over February One Place to the current site of the parking deck for Elm Street Center.
As part of the deal, the developers agreed to give up an economic incentive package of about $1.9 million, which as it turned out was almost exactly the same as the price the city agreed to pay for the land, $2.1 million, where the developer will build a parking deck for the city and will then build the hotel on top of the parking deck.
Wilkins asked if there was any reason the amounts were almost exactly the same and City Manager Jim Westmoreland said that it was a “coincidence.”
Mayor Nancy Vaughan, when asked about the lack of discussion about a $30 million parking deck and hotel complex in downtown Greensboro, said, “I was surprised too.”
The way the deal works, the city will buy the land for the parking deck and Elm Street Hotel will design and build the parking deck and sell it to the city. Vaughan said that the city was not charging the hotel for the air rights over the parking deck where the hotel will be built.
The first floor of the parking deck will be mixed use. Vaughan said she expected retail and office in that area, but she said that it was her understanding that the hotel, not the city, would control the development of the first floor. The city will only own the parking deck, although it will also own the land the parking deck, first floor mixed use and hotel are built over.
As part of the agreement, the hotel will rent at least 180 parking spaces from the city at market rate.
Vaughan said that all the city’s downtown parking garages are full during the day, and with more development coming to the downtown there is a need for more parking.
She said that she had heard people say that the new parking deck was being built for the Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, but that this project had nothing to do with the new performing arts center. Vaughan said that while the current parking decks are full during the day, at night, when most events would be held at the Tanger Center, there is plenty of available parking closer to the Tanger Center than this proposed deck will be.
Vaughan said that, as far as she knew, there was no set timeline for this project to get underway, but that the city had to close on the land first before the design phase could start.
The City Council likes to talk about transparency, but this deal has only been discussed in closed session, and, Tuesday night, when it was for the first time brought before the public, nobody said anything.
Vaughan may have been surprised that nobody said anything about the project, but she didn’t say anything either.