The two new parking decks and hotels planned for downtown Greensboro hit another snag at the Tuesday, Nov. 14 Greensboro City Council meeting.
Three of the items concerning the parking decks, priced at $28 million each, were removed from the agenda.
As late as Monday morning, Nov. 13, it appeared that the items would be voted on by the City Council. But negotiations with Rocky Scarfone, who owns the Cone Denim Entertainment Center on South Elm Street, which has two easements across the property where the proposed parking deck is to be built, are not complete.
The city paid over $2 million for the land – now largely a parking lot that is bounded by East Market Street, Davie Street and February One Place – and was in the process of designing the parking deck when the city discovered that Scarfone owned two easements across the parking lot; one easement goes out to Market and another to Davie. These are platted easements that go back so long that the legal description refers to the corner of a stable.
According to those involved in the negotiations, Scarfone says that he needs access to the back of Cone Denim for tractor-trailers and buses belonging to acts that play at the club. In place of the two easements, the city has reportedly offered Scarfone a 12- to 18-foot easement running between Market and February One and some alterations to the parking deck to make the area behind the club more accessible to large vehicles.
The reason for the delay is that Scarfone’s architects and engineers had not completed their analysis of whether the options proposed by the city would meet Scarfone’s needs. City Attorney Tom Carruthers said that the city wanted to give Scarfone time to analyze the proposal made by the city before moving forward.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said at the meeting that she had asked for the items to be continued until some questions she had could be worked out.
The city is committed to building two new parking decks. Along with the one on East Market, the city is building a parking deck on the southwest corner of Eugene and Bellemeade streets directly across from First National Bank Field. The Eugene Street deck will be built by the Carroll Companies, which also owns this newspaper.
Both new parking decks are slated to have hotels built on top of them and have some retail on the ground floor. Both will be built by private developers but paid for by the city and will be city owned and operated once they are completed. The city has already allocated $2 million each to design the parking decks. What was on the agenda was $28 million each to build the decks.
The cost of the decks, a total of $60 million, will largely be paid with parking fees.
No problems with the Eugene Street deck were cited and no reason given for delaying taking action on that deck except that one of the three items on the agenda combined the two decks into one motion for $56 million.
A fourth item that would have closed February One Place for 133 feet, beginning at the Davie Street intersection, was postponed a second time largely because neither Councilmember Sharon Hightower nor Councilmember Yvonne Johnson could understand how a permanently closed street could be open to traffic.
Assistant City Manager David Parrish explained that the street would be closed to traffic while the parking deck, which will go over the street, was being constructed but would reopen to traffic after the construction was complete – although technically not as a city street because it would be under a parking deck.
Parrish said that state law would not allow the city to have a street under a parking deck, but the city would retain the right-of-way, and after the construction was finished it would be used as a street. He said no one would be able to tell it wasn’t a street, but technically it would not be a city street.
City Manager Jim Westmoreland added that once the planned Westin Hotel was built on top of the parking deck, that portion of February One would be open to two-way traffic; currently the street is one way going east.
It is confusing because the plans call for February One to be one way coming off South Elm Street but two way up to the entrance to the hotel, which will be on February One. For some inexplicable reason Greensboro has a love affair with streets that are one way in certain portions and two way in others. Greene Street for no good reason has been like this for years.
Councilmember Justin Outling noted that this was the second time the street closing had been on the agenda and the second time it was being continued. He asked staff to work out any difficulties, such as explaining the process to property owners on February One.
One reason the City Council had these items concerning the parking decks on the agenda was that the meeting was the last business meeting of this City Council, which has consistently supported downtown development and has approved memorandums of understanding for both parking decks as well as the $4 million for the design.
Democracy Greensboro, another one of Nelson Johnson’s many organizations, had three speakers at the City Council meeting to speak against the parking decks.
District 5 Councilmember-elect Tammi Thurm received a perfect score of 5 from Democracy Greensboro, and At-large Councilmember-elect Michelle Kennedy wasn’t far behind at 4.9. It doesn’t mean that they will follow the anti-growth and development position of Democracy Greensboro, but it doesn’t mean they won’t either.
The items come up before the new City Council on Dec. 19 and the new councilmembers will have to vote either for or against downtown growth and development. Candidates can say whatever they want during the campaign, but once they are elected they have to take action.
The rest of the City Council meeting went according to script. Hightower complained about the Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) percentages for every project that came up. Even after two terms on the City Council it appears Hightower doesn’t understand the law on MWBE participation. Companies who can prove they made a “good faith effort” to hire minority firms don’t have to meet the percentages, which are goals not quotas. Hightower has repeatedly said that she doesn’t think this is right.
District 5 Councilmember Tony Wilkins left his last business meeting as a councilmember early. After he left, Outling asked that Wilkins be excused because he wasn’t feeling well.
It was noteworthy that Wilkins stayed at the meeting long enough to make certain that $513,000 was approved for Phase II improvements to Marylene Griffin Community Park, which is in District 5. It has been a constant struggle for Wilkins and for his predecessor, State Sen. Trudy Wade, to get funding for Griffin Park. It appears the city is in favor of building parks everywhere except District 5.
It was also the last meeting for At-large City Councilmember Mike Barber, who didn’t say much but did suggest that since there was no opposition to a rezoning and annexation request that it be passed without listening to the report.
Without Barber there, sometimes the city staff launches into the report because no one thinks to tell them not to. The fact that Barber has made a point of trying to eliminate needless reports gained him a great deal of popularity among those who have to attend the meetings.
The meeting ended after some very good natured back and forth between Hightower and Barber, who at times have had discussions that did not end with everyone laughing.
Barber made the motion to adjourn.