The bad news is that the News & Record this year is going to close down its press on East Market Street and start printing Greensboro’s only daily newspaper at the Winston-Salem Journal.
Both papers are owned by a division of Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire-Hathaway. So 2017, after the presses here are closed, will be the first time since the 1890s that there hasn’t been a daily newspaper printed in Greensboro. It also means a loss of jobs, although the News & Record reported that many of the jobs would be moved to Winston-Salem.
The worse news is that with the printing operation gone, the newspaper no longer has much use for the 6-plus acres it owns between East Market and East Washington streets. Having a tract of more than 6 acres to develop in downtown Greensboro might be a plus, except the City Council has already expressed interest in buying it.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan reportedly talked with the folks at the News & Record about buying the land today. Common sense says that if you tell a property owner you want to buy his land before it’s on the market, the price goes up. The city reportedly would buy the property because it is interested in controlling the development.
This is prime property in downtown Greensboro. It’s not like someone is going to buy it and put a trailer park on it. The City of Greensboro has a long history of buying property high and selling low. It would seem that any developer who was interested in the property would let the city buy it, knowing that the property could then be bought for less, because the city is not in the property development business and wants to support downtown development.
Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to allow the property to go on the market and see what kind of interest there is in it? If a developer wants to purchase the property and develop it, wouldn’t it be better for taxpayers for the city to stay out of the process? If the property goes on the market and there is no interest from the private sector, the city should be able to buy it for less, not more, than the asking price. Of course, if no developer is interested, maybe it is because what looks good on a map may not be that good in reality.
City Councilmember Tony Wilkins sent an email this afternoon to City Manager Jim Westmoreland asking, “Do we have any money available from the recent bonds that passed in November that might be available if the six acres of the News & Record property would become available? Does this warrant a discussion among staff and councilmembers?”
Wilkins copied the rest of the City Council on his email to Westmoreland and received an answer a few minutes later from Vaughan: “Conversations started early this morning. I am reaching out to the N&R this afternoon.”
Later Westmoreland replied that that there was $4 million designated for infill development in the Community and Economic Development Bond to implement a small infill development program for the city.
Actually, the city could spend as much of the Community and Economic Development Bond money as it wanted on the project. The bond money is only restricted by the language on the ballot, not by what the city said in selling the bonds to the public.
The voice of reason on all of this is City Councilmember Mike Barber, who said, “It’s a great property but this shouldn’t be a public discussion. More importantly, we should allow the private sector to buy it and keep it on the tax roles. We should not be competing with the private sector for prime property.”
Barber added, “It’s a closed session matter.”
The North Carolina open meetings law requires public bodies to do business in open session. One of the few exceptions to that law is the consideration of purchasing property. The reason the state allows that exemption is because if a government entity announces that it intends to buy a piece of property, the price goes up.
So the cat is out of the bag. The property is most likely going to become available and the city wants to snatch it up before some developer using their own money could buy it and develop it.
It’s interesting, but when the City Council was pushing the bond proposal last fall, no mention was made of sending millions of dollars of bond money to Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, but it appears that is what it intends to do.