May 22, 2013 - Mayor Jeff Schlink broke a tie to approve the first reading of an ordinance selecting the city's planning services consultant for the proposed redevelopment of Crestwood Court.
However, Schlink stipulated that if the measure ultimately is approved by the aldermen, the project will not immediately move to the county Tax-Increment Financing Commission.
The Board of Aldermen deadlocked 4-4 last week on the first reading of an ordinance selecting Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets, or PGAV, as the city's planning services consultant.
Ward 1 Aldermen Richard Breeding and Darryl Wallach, Ward 2 Alderman Mary Stadter and Ward 4 Alderman Dan Tennessen voted in favor of the measure. Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood, Ward 3 Aldermen Paul Duchild and Bill Boston and Ward 4 Alderman Mike Tsichlis were opposed.
Schlink told the board May 14 he has not broken ties in the past because he believes it should be the majority of the board's decision to move, or not move, the project forward rather than his. In December, the board deadlocked 4-4 on the ordinance selecting PGAV and Schlink declined to break the tie. As a result, the ordinance was not approved.
Before last week's vote, Schlink told the board if a tie occurred he would break it in favor of PGAV, but with the understanding that the project would not yet move to the county TIF Commission — a stipulation he discussed with City Attorney Rob Golterman, Centrum Properties partner Sol Barket and Jim Mello, Centrum's attorney.
Moving to the commission is required because Centrum is requesting TIF assistance, among its other tax-incentive requests, for its proposal to redevelop the mall. Centrum's plans remain unchanged from the proposal it unveiled last June. Centrum, the mall's owner along with Angelo Gordon Co., proposed an open-air entertainment and retail venue that would include restaurants, a movie theater and an upscale bowling venue.
"... If there is a tie tonight, I will break that tie in favor of it with the understanding, and being briefed by Mr. Golterman, the decision to move forward to the TIF Commission is entirely up to me," Schlink said. "Now the board can compel me to do it, but litigation can't compel us to do that ..."
Golterman told the board the agreement before the board last week was "modified slightly to reflect a reduced scope of work."
PGAV previously performed a preliminary analysis of Centrum's proposal, Schlink said, noting the measure before the board called for more thorough analysis that would cost $29,000.
"... What we're talking about next is the $29,000 plan that's more thorough ...," he said. "What would happen then is that plan gets presented to the county TIF Commission, and .... I would be very surprised if based off of the history and other actions of the county TIF Commission, I'd be surprised if the county TIF Commission would approve this proposal for a movie theater and restaurants.
"If that were to happen, then it comes back to our board. Then we're still not talking about breaking a tie. We're not talking about five votes to approve it. To overrule the county TIF Commission, you need six 'yes' votes for that to move forward. So there's a lot still that has to happen ..."
Regarding PGAV's preliminary analysis, Trueblood said, "We had their representative (John Brancaglione) speak to us clearly and he said ... their (Centrum's) plan was extremely risky and he didn't think it would work. He thought it was going to fail. Now I don't know why we want to pursue anything further than that on that basis. The person you're asking us to hire tonight told us it's a bad plan."
But Grant Mabie, who ran unsuccessfully for a Ward 3 seat in the April 2 election, later questioned Trueblood's characterization of PGAV's preliminary analysis.
"... My recollection — and I might be wrong, I'd have to look at the minutes — of PGAV's view of the project was a little different," he said. "I don't think they characterized it as a failure. I think they criticized Centrum's order they wanted to build — (it is) my understanding they wanted to see phase two built first and anchored by a major tenant, or something along those lines as opposed to calling the project a failure ..."
Trueblood later said, "The other thing that was told to us was that ... after spending $33 million, if what we had was a level lot, we should consider ourselves lucky and have had a home run ... He (Brancaglione) made it clear that that would be the best we could expect after spending $33 million, and I'm not real anxious to put that kind of money into someone's pocket (to) level the ground and that's it. And then they sell it to somebody else and we have to get another TIF? That's my concern ..."
Some aldermen, including Tsichlis, questioned how the ordinance came to be placed on the agenda.
Tsichlis, who was elected in April, said he was surprised that one of the first emails he received as an elected official was from a representative of Centrum requesting items be placed on the board's agenda. He asked Golterman and City Administrator Mark Sime about the process in setting agenda items.
Golterman said, "The normal procedure is, is to have the agenda determined and prepared by the city administrator in consultation with the mayor and not necessarily from any outside parties."
Tsichlis said, "Yeah, that was really surprising to me and I received also a follow-up email requesting a meeting with the developer's representatives ... just several hours prior to this meeting tonight. And I just want to say, and I don't know if any of the other new aldermen have anything to say about this as well, I just consider that rather inappropriate.
"Yes, I'm a new member to this body — four of us are — and I can understand somebody who's in a position such as developers are to want to introduce themselves to new members. But I have to say that given what this issue's about, and this issue, as you know, is something that's dominated the city for quite a while, its agendas, I would rather speak with developers and engage with them in an open forum such as this one before all of you people — before our public — because sometimes I get very concerned that the public is not fully engaged on this issue as they can be and should be ..."
Regarding how the item got on the agenda, Schlink said, "... One person asked me and Mr. Sime if it could be on the agenda. And even though I've said publicly and I've done it in the past, I haven't broken a tie because I don't believe it should be my decision as to whether or not this project goes forward. It should be the majority of the board.
"Having said that, I believe it's beneficial to have the discussion. That's one of the reasons that it's on the agenda tonight ..."
The second reading of the ordinance could be considered May 28 by the board.