Mecklenburg County will continue evaluating three proposals to transform 17 acres in Second Ward, after a meeting during which county commissioners expressed disagreement over what should be built in the area that once was home to the African-American neighborhood of Brooklyn Village.
The county last year launched a search for a developer. Staff members evaluated developer submissions in December and then put three proposals on a short list of finalists.
Commissioners reviewed the proposals Tuesday, but didn’t select one.
During a two-hour meeting, commissioners indicated they still had questions about widely differing financial offers and how each developer would pay for a plan to add office buildings, hotels, retail shops, affordable housing or parks.
Then there were three
The county manager’s office recommended the three finalists, CitiSculpt, Conformity Corp. and Crescent Communities, for redevelopment of Brooklyn Village and Walton Plaza, with each company required to submit financial documentation, development plans and an offer to purchase the county-owned land.
CitiSculpt, a Charlotte firm, proposed two plans that included up to 1,934 residential units, with 8 percent earmarked for affordable housing, along with a hotel, up to 129,000 square feet of retail and 560,000 square feet of office space.
The firm would pay up to $35.4 million for the land over four years, from 2018-2021.
Its proposal requests $17 million in county assistance for land and infrastructure improvements and the acquisition of the Old Metro School site. That would lower the payment to the county to no more than $18.4 million.
CitiSculpt would work with Akridge, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate firm, and Jefferson Apartment Group, also based in the Washington, D.C., area.
Conformity’s plan calls for 1,244 residential units, with 10 percent affordable housing, a hotel, 252,100 square feet of retail and 680,000 square feet of office space. It would add a cultural center and a park.
It would pay the county $50.1 million. It would not purchase the Metro School site.
Calling its master development entity BK Partners, Conformity would be the local developer and work with The Peebles Corp., a real estate developer, and Stantec Consulting Services, a design firm.
Crescent’s plan calls for 875 residential units, with 19 percent affordable housing, no hotel, 30,000 square feet of retail and 185,000 square feet of office space.
The Charlotte firm would pay the county about $23.8 million, with payments in 2017 and 2022.
Crescent’s proposal asks for an unspecified amount of county assistance for improvements, including open space, renovation of the Second Ward gym, demolition of Walton Plaza and other infrastructure improvements.
It would acquire the Old Metro School site and partner with Laurel Street Residential, a mixed-income residential project developer, and the Drakeford Co. Both are Charlotte firms.
In evaluating the proposals, a county consultant, HR&A Advisors, said CitiSculpt’s team proposed a mix of uses that would provide long-term economic activity on the sites and a “thoughtful” approach to open space and site design and had “strong experience” executing master plans in other markets.
Its financial offer was “moderate,” requiring public funding for improvements but with strong financial partners, the consultant said.
Conformity and BK Partners offered new office space, hotel and retail mix that will generate economic activity, with a commitment to workforce training, the consultant said.
The development team has experience in developing high-quality buildings, but lacks master planning experience, the consultant said.
Its financial offer has the highest effective payment to the county with no request for public funding for improvements, the consultant said.
Crescent’s proposal contained the least amount of commercial space and wouldn’t foster significant on-site economic activity, the consultant said.
It has the lowest-density program overall but the largest percentage of affordable housing. Its team brings experience in master-planned, mixed-use and affordable housing development, but its support from financial partners or lenders is unclear, the consultant said.
Further, it requests public support for improvements without specifying the investment required, the consultant said.
A steering committee for the county graded each proposal on its redevelopment approach, financial offer and terms, experience and qualifications, and financial soundness and capability.
On a 50-point scale, Conformity and BK Partners scored 40.57, CitiSculpt 38 and Crescent 37.79.
‘Somewhere in between’
Commission Chairman Trevor Fuller said the land had been appraised for about $59 million, raising the question whether it should be sold on the open market.
“To get me to accept less than that, I should be getting something,” Fuller said. “So when I see these numbers here for the effective payment to the county, I’m wondering, what’s the value we’re getting for such a substantial reduction on the appraised amount.”
He added, “Yes, we will get property that can be taxed, and therefore we get some value out of that. But we would get that value anyway, presumably, if we sold it straight and got $59 million and just let people do what they wanted to do.”
Fuller, however, said he wasn’t suggesting that proposal.
“What I’m saying is I use that as one bookend and then on the other bookend it’s, OK, what do I want to see?” he said. “If I had everything in the world, what would I want to see…Then you come somewhere in between that.”
Other commissioners asked if office space and hotels and reduced open space would fit into the community concept for families.
Commissioner Vilma Leake, acknowledging developers won’t remake Brooklyn Village into its 1950s and 1960s heyday of barber and beauty shops, grocery stores and funeral homes, questioned why the developer’s plans don’t include schools or churches, representing the faith community.
County planners said the goals in the Second Ward master plan call for a livable, urban neighborhood, a variety of housing types, parks and open space and workforce housing in each phase of development.
They also said development should integrate historic references throughout the neighborhood, whose history dates to the 1860s, when strong local businesses and housing stock attracted many freed African-Americans, especially after the Civil War.
The county said the developer selected must include in its plans a provision for at least 30 units of affordable housing and the preservation of at least 1.6 acres of open space within the Brooklyn Village site.
In the 1900s, the broader neighborhood became known as Brooklyn. In 1961, eight blocks within Brooklyn were cleared for a large-scale urban renewal project, eventually displacing 1,000 families and many businesses.
Spectrum Properties, after years of negotiations, was supposed to purchase the 6.5-acre Marshall Park included in the Brooklyn neighborhood for $18.9 million in 2013. But the deal fell through, and Spectrum’s plans for 690 apartments, office and retail space never materialized.
The entire Brooklyn Village area comprises more than 11 acres bounded by Davidson, South McDowell and East Third streets, and East Martin Luther King Drive.
The Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center separates the site from Walton Plaza, home to a seven-story office tower occupied by the county. The 5-acre property is between Interstate 277 and East Stonewall Street, north of South McDowell Street.
On Thursday, an anonymous email circulated among commissioners and county staff that raised questions about one company’s work history.
The email included links to several news stories about breach of contract and other lawsuits.
“We requested the staff to look into that, due a little due diligence on that to see whether that has any bearing on the proposals that we’re considering,” Fuller said after the commission meeting. “I want to await the results of our staff’s review of that email to see whether, in fact, it does have any bearing on our consideration of these proposals.”