Self-Help May Bring Renaissance to Shopping Center
The players may have changed, but the game is still the same.
The turnout for the Thursday, Jan. 23 community forum at the Peeler Recreation Center on the proposed Renaissance Center was heavy. Interest was strong, and residents of the neighborhood got a chance to grill the City of Greensboro’s new partner, Self-Help Ventures Fund, on the details of the proposed renovation.
The numbers were almost the same: The City of Greensboro would give Self-Help $2 million to buy the former Bessemer Shopping Center for $490,000 and pay for the first $1.51 million in renovations. Self-Help would kick in another $2.56 million, for a total budget of $4.56 million.
As with an earlier proposal by the Renaissance Center Group, fronted by former Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston, the Self-Help proposal includes the creation of a co-op grocery store. Unlike the Renaissance Center Group, which planned to fill the rest of the shopping center with its own stores, Self-Help representatives left the question of other tenants open, saying they would be chosen after consultations with the community.
The Renaissance Center Group had proposed a total budget of $4 million, with the city and developers each providing half.
Self-Help estimates that it would cost $4.6 million to buy and renovate the building, including landscaping, repaving the parking lot and improving the common areas of the shopping center.
In its proposal, Self-Help offered clawback provisions that would allow Greensboro to take back any remaining money if Self-Help doesn’t perform as promised on the project.
Self-Help projected increasing net revenues from the renovated shopping center over the first 11 years of operation, from $110,445 to $355,108. Some of that money would go into a reserve fund for maintenance.
Self-Help also asked the city to take out a 10-year lease on part of the new parking lot for patrons of the city library located on the property. The city would pay Self-Help $24,000 a year to rent the parking spaces and Self-Help would maintain the lot.
Self-Help, in its proposal, said it has been working with the Renaissance Community Coop “to see if they can qualify as a tenant” for a 10,000-square-foot space in the renovated shopping center.
The Renaissance Center Group proposal went down in flames after both the city and the developers insisted on the other side putting up their money first. There was no doubt that the city had the money, which created doubt that Alston’s backers had the money they claimed.
That may explain the difference between the Renaissance Center Group proposal and Self-Help’s. The Renaissance Center Group’s proposal was chock-full of conceptual drawings and floor plans, with little specificity on the group’s financial standing.
The Self-Help proposal contains no designs for the renovated building – those would be created later after community input – but 102 of the 112 pages of the Self-Help proposal consist of Self-Help Ventures Fund financial statements from 2009 to 2013. The most recent balance sheet shows Self-Help Ventures Fund having a total net worth after liabilities of $360 million.
The proposal states, “The organization had $71 million in net assets on June 30, – demonstrating that it has adequate resources to finance the equity for the project.”
Thursday’s forum drew Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and City Councilmembers Jamal Fox, Yvonne Johnson, Nancy Hoffmann and Marikay Abuzuaiter. The Renaissance Center is in Fox’s district.
Fox said the process of redeveloping the shopping center would be public, although at points city staff would have to negotiate with Self-Help. He said the city is asking for public feedback by Feb. 7, submitted either online at www.greensboroideas.com, or submitted as hard copies at the Peeler Recreation Center. He said the comments would be posted online by Feb. 11 and would be considered by the City Council in its Feb. 13 work session. He said he hoped the project would be on the agenda for the Feb. 18 City Council meeting.
Fox said, “Time is of the essence for this community to move forward.”
Greensboro Deputy City Manager Jim Westmoreland, who will take over as city manager from Denise Roth on Feb. 1, said, “I can tell you that I can look at this project and I know how important it is to this community.”
Westmoreland said the city is ready, if the City Council approves the project, to “make it happen and make it happen soon.”
“This is about what you want,” he said. “This is not about what we as a city government want.”
Of course, with a proposal for the city to provide $2 million, the project should be very much about what the City Council wants.
Tucker Bartlett, executive vice president of Self-Help Ventures Fund, cited other projects Self-Help has done before, including Kent Corner, a similar shopping center in Durham anchored by the Center for Child and Family Health and a co-op grocery, and Self-Help’s current renovation of Revolution Mill. Bartlett said Self-Help was initially hesitant about taking on the Renaissance Center project because it was busy with Revolution Mill Studios in Greensboro.
He said, “We really realized how vital and impactful this project could be for this community.”
Bartlett said Self-Help has experience with creatively using decayed buildings. He said Self-Help knows how to do renovations and, more importantly, how not to do them. He said, “We would never lease to a payday lender, a pawn shop, a liquor store. We also have to make sure the project happens. The numbers have to work.”
Bartlett and other Self-Help representatives promised to work extensively with the neighborhood. Bartlett said, “If you guys get to know us and don’t like us, if you don’t think we’re the right people to do this project, that’s fine.”
The Self-Help representatives fielded numerous questions from the audience, including whether other tenants for the shopping center had been lined up.
Bartlett said Self-Help was at the meeting at the request of the city. He said, “We do not own this center, so we’re not in a position to market the center, to negotiate with tenants.”
Asked about conceptual drawings and designs, Tucker said they didn’t exist. He said it would depend on the type and number of tenants that could succeed in the neighborhood.
“We’re going to renovate the entire center, but we need your help before we start this up,” he said. “We don’t want to put anybody there that is going to fail.”
A member of the audience asked if the co-op grocery store’s prices would be competitive with Food Lion or Lowes Foods.
A representative of the co-op said they would.
“This store is not here to be organic,” she said. “This store is here to meet the needs of the people. If it’s too high, you’re not going to shop there, and I’m not going to shop there. We are going to meet the needs of the people of this community, which is a traditional grocery store.”
BY Paul C. Clark
January 30, 2014
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