PE Board Okays Extension

Published 4:28 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

PRINCE EDWARD – There wasn't much holiday cheer to go around Tuesday evening as moments reached a contentious level as the board of supervisors discussed an extension to an economic development grant agreement for the Granite Falls project.

Still, over sharp words from citizens addressing the issue in the public comment portion of the meeting and some verbal wranglings of supervisors, the board did manage to grant another one-year extension to the agreement.

“The developer of the Granite Falls Hotel & Conference Center has obtained commitments from all necessary investors and the bank for all necessary financing,” County Administrator Wade Bartlett read from an agenda summary to the board. “The only piece missing to allow the project to move forward is obtaining an allocation for the New Market Tax Credit Program. It is anticipated this issue will be resolved early in 2013.”

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Prince Edward Development, which hopes to build a hotel and conference and training centers just south of Farmville, has been given extensions in the past, essentially extending the time for the developer to purchase County-owned land.

Last year, for example, the Board unanimously approved extending the land purchase date to January 16, 2013, extended the substantial completion date to December 16 and the grant termination date to December 31, 2038. Prior to that, the board had extended the closing date for possible sale of County property to January 16, 2012.

Prince Edward Development's project, which would be more accessible with the new, nearly completed Route 786, aims for a 176-room hotel with a conference center and training center.

The board's action Tuesday effectively terminates all previous agreements, extends a grant agreement from December 31, 2038 to December 31, 2039 and extends the agreement termination to the same 2039 date.

“To date, the County and the Economic Development office have received no contacts from any developers or other individuals expressing an interest in this property,” Bartlett also read from the memo. “We have received a few contacts regarding other properties available for development in the business park and the land the county recently acquired that borders Route 786. These properties are currently served by water, sewer and electricity, which make them less expensive and more attractive to developers. Staff sees little downside risk in approving the requested extension, but considerable upside potential if the project moves forward.”

He added, “A Board of Supervisors decision not to extend the agreement will result in the developer abandoning the project. This will effectively eliminate the possibility of the County experiencing an investment of approximately $54 million, 140 new jobs and the accompanying tax revenues.”

Wilck's Proposals

Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck also cited specific issues.

“…Our county administrator and evidently some of our supervisors believe in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, so for them I'm gonna propose several options that will put this on a business level,” Wilck said.

Specifically, Wilck proposed that they sign a 120-day, non-renewable option with Robert Fowler (of Prince Edward Development) for $50,000 (which, he suggested, would go into the County's general fund and not be used for attorney's fees or engineering required by this project). A second option, he suggested, was a 60-day non-renewable option with no up front cash.

“Now with either of these, you can still come back to us without a complete…well we can have a completed deal without an option. Nothing stops you from that, except if someone else has stepped up to the plate. Heck, I'm even willing to give you a 30-day right of first refusal if someone does step up to the plate.”

Wilck also offered that he is “even ready to vote for a year's option with a sensible cash option payment and removal of the moral guarantee part of the program.”

He noted, “Those are for business decisions. Those are not seat of the pants, Tooth Fairy, or Easter Bunny. That's how a businessman handles it.”

Leigh District Supervisor Don Gantt, however, would note, “Well…as a business person, as somebody who from time to time has to deal with banks, I can assure you when you're in a situation like this, everything's fluid. Nothing is overlooked. People go through it one after the other. Minds get changed, things happen. I can't image trying to put together a $54 million investment in this economic climate, but he's taken that task on.”

Gantt would also note that he asked Fowler if he has “any skin in the game? And I can assure you he does. His own money is in this.”

The question before the board that night, Gantt would add, isn't is the hotel going to make it or not, but a simple question of whether they will give him one year to try to keep putting this together.

“It hasn't cost us a nickel,” Gantt offered. “The road wasn't put in for the hotel.”

Still, Gantt's comment was greeted with chuckles from the audience.

He would follow up that there's “ten other things once this has finished that that (the road) can go to and what I'm really looking forward to is the day the road gets opened. Every day I go by there and I can't tell you how many people in my district want to see it open.”

The road, Gantt would also defend, is “there. It's done. Period…We need to work as a county and we need to work as a board to make the best of this situation.” He added that he is “optimistic” that the road is going to work out and added that he is “hopeful it works out for you, Bob….”

The board, he would also offer, “has not stepped up and signed any agreement that we would do a moral guarantee on this.”

Farmville District (801) Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones countered Gantt's assessment, saying she personally thinks it was built for the hotel.

“The road is very narrow,” she said. “It was not built as a main thoroughfare. It definitely was not built for Prince Edward County Schools. It has this big median in it and, from people who've been on the road, who have constantly called, saw me in the stores, complained about this road, this road has this big median, has one cut-through basically exactly where the hotel was supposed to be. Now, if there's an accident on that road, you have to shut it down. There is no way to go around, there is no way to turn, no way to go back. You have to go all the way through the road, except to that cut-through to…be able to turn around.”
<br />The two-Gantt and Cooper-Jones-bantered over the road and its need with Gantt eventually calling for the question (to effectively vote on the motion), offering: “What you're saying has absolutely nothing to do with the question that's before us tonight.”

“Well I think that you think that whatever you say is important, but…I think I'm just as important talking as you are. And the question is whether or not we should keep approving (something that has) been going on for years,” Cooper-Jones said.

The motion, Gantt maintained, is approving a one-year extension of the Granite Falls agreement.

“Exactly,” Cooper-Jones said.

“I understand that,” Gantt responded. “I don't understand any of the rest of what you put out there. And what I mean by that is, the question that's before us tonight-the road is there. It's done. It's finished.”

“You're right,” Cooper-Jones said.

“We need to work together to make the best of what's there,” Gantt continued. “The next thing is to authorize the board chairman to sign any and all documents associated with the one-year extension. That costs us nothing. It has nothing to do with the road.”

Wilck would later ask about the amount of money for the option.

The motion did not specify any funds.

“I want to see $50,000, $75,000 on this if he wants the option,” Wilck said. “That's normal business.”

“It's not,” Gantt countered.

“It is normal business,” Wilck maintained.

“It absolutely is not,” Gantt said.

“You pay for an option on real estate…,” Wilck said.

“Not always,” Gantt responded. “Not always. Not always.”

In the end, Chairman William “Buckie” Fore directed that they bring the matter to a vote where the extension was approved, with Wilck, Cooper-Jones and Prospect Supervisor Howard “Pete” Campbell opposing.

Citizen Comments

Several citizens spoke the public participation portion of the meeting, hammering issues related to the extension and the project. Michele Schumacher offered that she wanted to voice her “objection to this board's rubber-stamping all of the requests brought before it concerning this project.”

She would later comment, “This board has the fiduciary duty before entering into any further extensions of any and all agreements with Mr. Fowler and Prince Edward Development LLC and before continuing to spend any more of this county's money to require that it receive copies of all written approvals for financing from any and all banking institutions as well as any and all investor agreements…which Mr. Fowler has obtained for the project.”

Schumacher peppered the project on many fronts.

“The county has expended enough money on this project and there is no plausible justification for extending it. It's time the board acts in the best interests of the citizens and puts an end to this charade and cut your losses and move on,” Schumacher said.