The saga of the two proposed downtown parking decks continues.
As far as the proposed parking deck on the corner of North Eugene and Bellemeade streets across from the ball park on land owned by the Carroll Companies (which also own this newspaper) is concerned, when Mayor Nancy Vaughan called Roy Carroll on Monday, April 23 and said the city was walking away from the negotiating table and was going to build a deck across the street, that wasn’t entirely true.
Carroll and the city are back at the table and met last week to discuss how to move forward with the negotiations.
Carroll said, “There are preliminary conversations going on with the city trying to frame what kind of time we have and what are the parameters of the negotiation.”
Carroll added, “I’m optimistic and I’m hopeful that we can work something out with the city so that we can have a nice deck, better than a prefab deck that is going to mess up one of the more valuable corners in the city.”
When the city called off negotiations, Jim Westmoreland – who was city manager at the time but who retired on April 30 – said that the city would build a prefab parking deck on the Guilford Merchants Association property across North Eugene Street from the Carroll site. Experienced downtown developers say that cities are no longer building stand-alone parking decks like the one Westmoreland said Greensboro planned to build.
Interim City Manager David Parrish said much the same thing as Carroll about the current status of the negotiations. He said about the meeting with Carroll, “We made some good progress.” He added, “It’s complicated.”
When asked about the issue of the timeline, which was the reason the city gave for ending discussions before, Parrish said, “Clearly we didn’t communicate that properly.”
But Parrish added, “I’m focused on the future.” When asked about the other issue that seemed to be a sticking point – a date certain when Carroll will build the hotel, office and residential tower on top of the deck – Parrish said, “Do we want a date certain? Yes. Do we have to have a date certain? No.”
Parrish said that the city wanted to be collaborative and he believed they were headed in the right direction, where the goals and timelines were defined in advance.
Carroll said, “I know they are under pressure to get parking and I certainly appreciate that. And we want to get the discussions wrapped up so that I can get going and deliver that product.”
Vaughan also said that the city would prefer to move ahead with the Carroll project and that they were making progress.
It seems the renewed meetings got off to a good start. Here is the text that Carroll sent to Vaughan after the meeting: “Thanks for the meeting today. I look forward to exchanging info to see if we can get things back on track. Regardless, you are my mayor and I support you. It is funny you’re the first person to fire me. Roy.”
Vaughan said she agreed that the idea of her firing Carroll was pretty funny and that everyone involved wanted the negotiations to be successful.
At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 15, City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson asked City Attorney Tom Carruthers for a public explanation of why the city settled with Cone Denim Entertainment Center owner Rocky Scarfone and others over the easement and parking issues that had held up progress on the February One Place-Westin Hotel parking deck.
The City Council voted to make a $650,000 payout plus $83,000 in attorney’s fees to Scarfone, plus other considerations, to settle his lawsuit against the city at the April 24 meeting without much comment. At that time, the council also voted to pay the owner of Limelight $150,000 plus $35,000 attorney’s fees for the disputed easement and Limelight had not filed suit.
Carruthers said, “The settlement with the NClub and Greater Greensboro Entertainment was unique in several ways.” Scarfone is the principle owner of both the NClub, which owns the building, and Greater Greensboro Entertainment, which does business as Cone Denim Entertainment Center.
Carruthers said that although the city had the right to condemn the easement for a parking deck, the fact that the parking deck was part of a downtown development agreement was not an issue that had been addressed by the courts in a condemnation case. Carruthers noted that the city had the right to condemn property for a parking deck and to enter into a downtown development agreement, but putting the two together had created some legal issues.
Scarfone not only filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s right to condemn the property and to cancel the parking agreement, he also requested a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the city from building the parking deck while the case was being decided.
The request for a TRO was heard by Superior Court Judge Andy Cromer on Jan. 29 and Cromer said he expected to announce a decision by Feb. 16. But Cromer didn’t. The city had agreed not to move ahead with construction of the parking deck until the court made a ruling on the TRO, which meant as long as the judge didn’t rule on the TRO it was as if a TRO were in place.
Carruthers said that after three months with Cromer not issuing a ruling on the TRO, the city decided to move forward to settle the suit so it could start building the $65 million parking deck and hotel project.
Carruthers said that since a case involving a downtown development agreement and condemnation for a parking deck had not been adjudicated and the judge was not making a decision, “The city had some concern.”
Carruthers also said that this was “a very unique type of condemnation which will not be found again.”
This is a far cry from what Carruthers had told the City Council going into the condemnation case, which was that the city could condemn and take the property for public use and the only question would be how much the easement was worth. The city had offered $55,000 for the easement, which it paid $325,000 for in the settlement agreement.
Also during Greensboro’s one day in court, Bruce Ashley of Smith Moore Leatherwood, who was representing the city, made an incredibly short presentation. Ashley stated that the statute gave the city the right to take the easement by eminent domain because it was for a public purpose, which was a public parking deck, and that was about it. There was little attempt made to answer the hour-long presentation made by Scarfone’s attorney Amiel Rossabi who alleged the true purpose of the parking deck was to provide parking for the hotel and that public parking was a secondary consideration.
From Ashley’s presentation one would think that it was a cut and dried case of the city condemning an easement – something it does with some regularity – not a case that was “unique” and had never been adjudicated.
The $650,000 was divided into two parts. Not only did the city pay $325,000 for the easement to the NClub, the city also paid $325,000 to buy out the parking contract that Greater Greensboro Entertainment had with the previous owner of the property to park buses in the parking lot. The parking contract was part of the lawsuit and the request for the TRO, so Carruthers said that had to be settled also.
As far as the easement, which Limelight also had rights to use, even though the owners didn’t sue, Carruthers said that easement had to be purchased to go forward with the parking deck, which is why Limelight received $150,000 plus $35,000 for attorney’s fees for an easement the city said was worth $55,000.
Scarfone in the agreement also received an easement to the back door of Cone Denim Entertainment Center from East Market Street, the right to park buses in the easement, and the city cannot block the easement during construction as the city had previously said it would be required to do. In addition, Scarfone received the right to rent a bus parking space in the parking deck once it is constructed and the use of a lift to move equipment. Scarfone also received some property from the city and the right to build an addition to the Cone Denim Entertainment Center.
Carruthers explained that the easement issue was “unique,” but one has to wonder why the city didn’t know about its uniqueness before buying the parking lot for $1.1 million. In the end, the city will spend over an additional $1 million to acquire the rights to the easement and cancel the parking agreement, nearly doubling the cost of the parking lot it purchased.