The Greensboro City Council passed the economic incentive for Bourbon Bowl at 535 S. Elm St. at a special virtual meeting on Thursday, July 2.
There was never much doubt that the unusual $80,000 economic incentive was going to pass, and after a much longer discussion than some expected the incentive request passed on an 6 to 2 vote with Councilmembers Justin Outling and Sharon Hightower voting no. Councilmember Michelle Kennedy did not participate in the virtual meeting.
Outling, who is a partner in the Brooks Pierce law firm, questioned the legality of granting a economic incentive that was itself providing no jobs and bringing no new business to the downtown.
It took some work but Outling finally got Assistant City Manager Kim Sowell to agree that the city had never granted an economic incentive quite like this one.
Outling’s main issue was that construction on Bourbon Bowl started months ago and the boutique bowling alley, which includes a high end bar and restaurant, was unquestionably going to be completed and opened whether the economic incentive was granted or not.
He said, “The incentive is not, in fact, necessary.”
He noted that the $3.6 million full cost of the project was used to qualify for the economic incentive but the economic incentive itself was to pay $80,000 of a $160,000 expense to upgrade the patio.
Outling asked if any new jobs were being created by the upgraded patio and Sowell said the city had received no information about the upgrade to the patio creating any new jobs.
Outling noted that the state of North Carolina had laws against emoluments, which is a big word for gifts. The city cannot give money to a developer simply because they think it is a good project or the developer is a nice guy.
Outling said, “As a matter of law and as a matter of policy, we cannot reward them for what we regard as a job well done.”
Outling asked Greensboro City Attorney Chuck Watts for his opinion and Watts noted that the request had been altered since the closed session discussion and he said that the grant “is defensible at this point.”
Those in favor of granting the $80,000 economic incentive to enhance the patio blamed the city’s slow response to the request for an economic incentive for the decision to only fund the patio enhancement.
Sowell said that the boutique bowling alley itself did not qualify for an incentive because it was already under construction when the city considered the application. But since the patio was not under construction at the time of the application, it did qualify.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan noted that the whole process of Bourbon Bowl to applying for a grant started in December 2019 and it wasn’t the fault of the developer that the city had been so slow to respond.
Vaughan said, “They did come in the very beginning. Because we fell down on our job doesn’t mean we should punish the developer.”
The letter requesting the economic incentive from the owners of the Bourbon Bowl, Paul and Dale Talley, to Greensboro Economic Development Manager Kathi Dubel is dated Dec. 3, 2019 and begins, “Per our meeting a few months prior, my wife Dale and I respectfully submit the attached Urban Development Investment Guideline (UDIG).”
So while the first formal application was made in December, the negotiations with the city apparently started a few months earlier and for reasons that were not explained at the meeting, it took the city nine or 10 months to make a decision on what appears to be a relatively simple request for an economic development incentive.