On April 24, 2019, during a public workshop, the City Council gave direction to our City Manager regarding the issuance of an RFQ/RFP for Adams Street hotel development. A council majority indicated a preference for moving forward with development and appears to see the wisdom and synergy of a high-end luxury hotel with a public walking path to the river.
We see the RFQ/RFP process as an opportunity to invite well-positioned developers to present environmentally superior, creative and cutting-edge luxury hotel proposals that will enable us to address our long-neglected civic assets and aging infrastructure, deliver enhanced community amenities and support our downtown merchants.
This new process followed the two-year SHAPE and facilities condition assessment process, which I assumed would provide the necessary link between our substantial revenue needs and our focus on Adams Street development. The new process would also include more robust community input on the RFQ/RFP content and the use of a citizens ad hoc committee to evaluate the development proposals.
Allowing significant community input on the RFQ/RFP content with respect to scope and scale of hotel development and use of a small portion of the property for open space or some other community benefit differs substantially from the process two years ago. At that time the city council did not have a strong community engagement component and the development proposals were only reviewed by city staff and consultants. That poor process likely created a bit of cynicism and distrust in the community.
As a council member with an obligation to work in the best interest of the entire community, I have supported this new RFQ/RFP process with more public engagement. In addition to helping to revitalize our downtown economy, we certainly can benefit from a large cash infusion into our city coffers to address our aging buildings and infrastructure and our dearth of community amenities.
Although our day-to-day operations are financially sound (with a $15 million General Fund budget), most of us recognize the city's daunting and expensive capital improvement and infrastructure needs: City Hall, public works corporation yard, police station, library upgrades or replacement, recreation center, sidewalks, employee housing, enhanced streetscape, storm drains. We also are facing rising personnel and healthcare costs and unfunded pension liabilities.
Given the potential environmental and quality of life trade-offs, I would prefer limited or even no development on Adams Street. However, it is also clear that our community has a rare financial opportunity to help tackle our legacy issues without having to impose excessively high property taxes. Ultimately, it will be up to the community to learn about the nature and extent of our civic buildings and infrastructure needs and decide how it wishes to fund those needs. We can no longer defer these issues.
I assumed that our SHAPE and facilities condition assessment process supplied the necessary reality check to the community. However, we still appear to be leading with a sale of Adams Street for a luxury hotel rather than from the perspective of city/community wants and needs. We must better explain to the public exactly what the capital improvement/infrastructure plan is and how much it will cost. We are a “show me” community and the council needs to respond accordingly.
To that end, we must refocus our efforts on a capital improvement/infrastructure plan and cost estimates to better inform our decision-making process. We now need to build on our excellent SHAPE and facilities condition assessment process to focus on concrete plans with solid cost estimates. That is where we will need to engage more with citizens and utilize a citizens ad hoc committee.
Once done, we can then pivot to the various financing options: Plan A (Balanced Adams Street Development), Plan B (Bonds and Parcel Taxes), sale of other city assets or a combination of several options.
The city council has postponed issuing an RFQ/RFP until the city develops better cost estimates for the infrastructure improvements that could be financed by developing Adams Street. Our consultants will assess the needs and costs associated with a new City Hall, upgrades at the library, and conceptual recreational facilities. In addition, the city will continue to plan for our downtown streetscape project and long-term renovations of the city’s storm drains and sewer and water infrastructure.
I look forward to working with my council colleagues in developing a more specific capital improvement/infrastructure plan together with a concrete and realistic financing plan. Although I remain skeptical about the community’s appetite for property taxes and am concerned that taxation drives up property costs and creates disincentives for retaining middle-class housing, as a realist and a pragmatist, I am willing to explore all opportunities to tackle our flagging downtown economy, long-neglected civic assets and aging infrastructure.
Our downtown merchants deserve better. Our city employees deserve better. Our residents deserve better. We all deserve better.
Paul Dohring, vice mayor