Granite Falls Update

Published 3:24 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2012

PRINCE EDWARD – So how close is the Granite Falls hotel, conference and training center project to reality?

Possibly really close.

Robert “Bob” Fowler, of Prince Edward Development (which plans to construct the Granite Falls hotel, conference and training centers just south of Farmville) asked that the board hold a special meeting in the coming weeks with the Granite Falls Community Development Authority (CDA) and other officials.

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“We are now at the stage of being ready to present you a final plan,” he told the board at their February meeting. “We have on the hotel side completed our equity raised, we have been in final negotiations with three separate banks and expect at least one written preliminary commitment by the end of next week.”

The lawyers, Fowler further detailed, have completed about 95 percent of their legal analysis.

Still, close isn't quite yet there and Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck likened the project to the Peanuts Charlie Brown and Lucy cartoon, where Charlie Brown gets close to kicking the football, only to have Lucy jerk it away at the last minute.

“…It was supposed to be on the 13th, but now we're going for another three weeks,” Wilck said.

He likened Fowler to Lucy, the board and the administrator to Charlie Brown and the football to taxpayer money.

Fowler later told The Herald that they are making progress and that they still don't have all of the pieces in place.

Asked about the equity in an interview after the meeting, he noted that it's nice to get that beyond them so they can now just focus on the bank loan. He said he would like to get something in writing from at least two banks so he has some negotiating power.

“Yeah,” Fowler says, when asked if it were a big piece of the puzzle, “but…that was the piece we were less worried about than the debt, just 'cause there's a banking situation…but…it's nice to get that beyond us so we can now just focus on the bank loan.”

As for a prospective called meeting with the board and the IDA, Prince Edward Development is closer to nailing down Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for the project. Fowler noted that when they made their presentation in November, they gave a broad outline of how they think the deal would be structured, subject to attorneys going back and taking a look at all the various requirements.

He offered that they are now at a point where they're “about 95 percent there and they're just working out the final details so we'll be in a position to say OK this is a financing plan that meets all the requirements of the IRS…for tax exempt bonds, and meets all the requirements of the new market tax credit program and meets all the state law requirements for a CDA financing and sort of here is the final deal. And…assuming that's acceptable to the board, they'll approve it sort of as a final plan.”

While it won't be the final time they have to vote on it, Fowler explains, “at least it will be…we're OK with this final plan so go ahead and start papering the deal.”

It takes about 90 days to work through the New Market program. Attorneys would be generating documents that incorporate the plan they present to the board. A closing, he projected, wouldn't occur until probably sometime in May.

“…As long as we can break ground by the beginning of July…we can still meet our opening date of March 1 of 2014, so we've got a couple of months cushion in the schedule,” he said.

The site of the proposed hotel, conference and training centers, about a 94 acre County property, was transferred to the County's Industrial Development Authority in 2009. The board of supervisors looked to the entity to work out a proposal for the board to consider. Supervisors later approved a contingency real estate contract with Prince Edward Development.

There was also a long list of contingencies that must also be resolved-such as rezoning the site and the creation of a new Community Development Authority (CDA) and that the purchaser is to obtain satisfactory financing commitments for the project.

In addition, the County was to provide evidence that a new State Route 628 would be constructed.

The last major piece from the County's standpoint, Fowler reflected, was providing evidence that they would build the road.

And that is essentially set in stone, with the County looking to see the new road built by the end of the year.