The News & Record has never been one to let the facts get in its way, and it is in the midst of an all-out campaign against the proposed new parking deck and Westin Hotel complex on February One Place because the city can’t prove to the satisfaction of the N&R that a new parking deck is needed downtown.
Actually, the parking deck will go over February One Place and, unlike the N&R continues to report, it is one parking deck, not two connected by a walkway. State Sen. Trudy Wade and state Rep. Jon Hardister pushed a bill through the General Assembly that made building one parking deck over the street connecting the property owned by two entities possible. If it were really two parking decks, as the N&R reports, then there was no need for the new state law allowing the city to build one parking deck on two pieces of property. The parking deck will essentially turn February One Place into a tunnel.
The N&R has for some reason turned against this parking deck. Editorial Page Editor Allen Johnson even wrote a column about how being against the parking deck doesn’t make him a “naysayer.” It appears naysayer is a term reserved for people who oppose projects that Johnson favors, but not for Johnson when he opposes a project others favor.
The city threw a huge monkey wrench in the parking deck project by ignoring an easement that runs all the way across the parking lot on Davie Street where the proposed parking deck is to be built. The easement belongs to Rocky Scarfone, the owner of the Cone Denim Entertainment Center.
Instead of making a deal with Scarfone to buy the easement before purchasing the property, the city purchased the property, designed the parking deck and then got in touch with Scarfone offering $55,000 for the easement. Scarfone says the easement is absolutely required for him to stay in business because he has to have access to the back of the building and that it is worth far more than $55,000 to his business.
Simply from a business standpoint, an easement across the property affects the value of the property and an easement owned by someone who won’t give it up affects the property value even more.
Scarfone has said that if the city takes the easement by eminent domain the city will have effectively closed down his business, which he values at more than $5 million. So it is entirely possible that the easement will cost the city over twice as much as the parking lot it runs across, and that will be a question for the courts to decide.
Scarfone has filed suit and, in January, requested a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the city from building the parking deck until after the lawsuit is settled. At the hearing on the TRO, Judge Andy Cromer said he hoped to make a ruling by Feb. 16. As of March 28, that ruling had not been made.
If Cromer grants the TRO, that will likely kill the project unless the city quickly agrees to settle with Scarfone because the entire project is already months behind schedule and the court case could easily drag on for years.
Although the parking deck could be built any time, the Westin Hotel construction is under time constraints. If the hotel portion of the project is removed, then the parking deck would have to be redesigned from the ground up. As proposed, the entrance to the hotel would be on the first floor of the parking deck on February One Place and the hotel would be built on top of the portion of the parking deck south of February One Place.
So the city messed up, but that doesn’t appear to be why the N&R is opposing the parking deck. The opposition centers around the fact that one of the reasons given for building a new parking deck was that Lincoln Financial is adding employees and is reportedly going to need between 300 and 500 parking spaces. Lincoln Financial refuses to confirm this to the N&R, which should not be the least bit surprising. Corporations are notoriously silent when it comes to answering probing questions from the press.
However, Lincoln Financial is in the midst of renovating its three office buildings on North Elm Street, Friendly Avenue and West Market Street. Lincoln Financial hasn’t reported exactly what that renovation will cost, but one source estimated that when it is complete it would be about $60 million.
Lincoln is also moving all of its tenants out of the buildings. One of those current tenants is the Tuggle Duggins law firm, which has 34 attorneys. Certainly when that space is vacated Lincoln will have the space for at least a 100 new employees.
The N&R reported that Lincoln Financial was now leasing over 400 more parking spaces from the city than it did a few years ago, which seems to be a good indication that the company is employing more people in Greensboro. Since the renovation is not complete and all the tenants have not moved out, it seems reasonable to assume that Lincoln Financial will continue to need more parking for additional employees when it completes the project.
Plus, City Manager Jim Westmoreland gave the additional parking needs of Lincoln Financial as one of the reasons the city was proposing a parking deck about half a block away. Westmoreland said this but has not produced any documentation of the parking needs of Lincoln Financial to the N&R, which from reading the N&R seems to prove that Westmoreland made it up.
Lincoln Financial is a privately held company and can release whatever information it wants when it wants, and there is no reason to think that Westmoreland suddenly decided to start making things up.
Another huge problem the N&R has with the proposed parking deck is that the city hasn’t done a downtown parking study since 2010. According to that study, the city needed a new parking deck. Since 2010, a number of businesses have been added to the downtown but no significant amount of parking. So it would seem that if the city needed a new parking deck in 2010, it would need one much more today.
It appears the city may have been attempting to save the taxpayers some money by not doing another parking study when there didn’t seem to be any need.
Scarfone has challenged all of this in his lawsuit, and it seems the N&R has taken all the allegations in that lawsuit as fact.
The statements in the lawsuit begin with the phrase, “Upon information and belief.” This is legal terminology for “we can’t prove this but this is what we think,” and the phrase offers legal protection if it is indeed wrong, which the allegations in lawsuits often are.
Scarfone has a good argument that his rights were ignored by the city and that the city has refused to make reasonable accommodations to provide him the access to the back of his building that he now enjoys. But that doesn’t mean, as the N&R keeps trying to prove, that the city doesn’t need more parking downtown.
It is simply a matter of common sense. If downtown Greensboro is going to grow, with more people living and working downtown, then more parking is going to be needed. A developer is not going to build a new office building if the prospective tenants have nowhere to park.
The all out war on the parking deck declared by the N&R is puzzling. Upon information and belief the answer may lie in the fact that the publisher of the N&R is in Winston-Salem. Greensboro and Winston-Salem are extremely competitive. It might be a stretch, but it makes more sense than believing every word in a lawsuit that is preceded by “Upon information and belief” as an absolute fact.