Monday, July 28, 2008

Fool Me Twice

Today's editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Times succinctly captures the general feeling of hope and disappointment regarding the broken promises and the resulting eyesore that mars the spirit and scars the townscape of downtown Fayetteville. As much as we all wanted the Renaissance project to succeed, everyone now knows that the developers over-promised, that the city taxpayers are out $3.5 million spent to acquire and clear the land, and that it has been a huge, visible, and embarrassing failure.

This afternoon, the Planning Commission is being asked to consider yet another project by developers
Nock and Alexander (using a different Limited Liability Corporation shell that includes Hank Broyles), and again they are asking for special favors. Chutzpah, it is called. They want the city to annex an additional 831 acres for them out west of I-540 beyond the city limits in the troubled Greenland School District, then approve the entire 910 acres as a residential planned zoning district. They are hinting that it could take a minimum of 25 years to finish this sprawl site called SouthPass, but in the meantime they want the city taxpayers to assume all liability for a closed landfill and to spend about $20 million to develop a park that would further enhance the marketability for this fantastic dream. How many time extensions do you think will they request on this deal?

When asked about the huge mud hole they had given the city in exchange for the multi-million dollar TIF subsidy, Richard Alexander boasted last week that in his opinion, "
our obligations to the city are over. We own that land fee simple absolute. The city has been paid the full benefit of its bargain." It is a poor bargain for the city when it spends $3.5 million and then sell it to non-performing developers for $300,000. This is especially galling, because the city accommodated the developers by paying more for the property than it would have under a protracted condemnation process and waived the requirements for selling city property, being told that such compliance "would cause such delays as to render this adopted Project Plan unfeasible."

Section 15 of the March 2005 contract with the developers provided that the city could opt to take back the property for $10,000 if the developers failed to meet project dates for engineering, architect, and construction contracts. The unanswered questions remain as to whether the city can exercise the same action when the developers fail to do anything after signing the contracts and receiving extensions and whether it has the political will to find out?

Given the experience with these developers, who have failed to deliver on their promises and who have admitted they are having legal and financing woes on their unfinished Cosmopolitan hotel remodeling project, why would city officials approve their even more ambitious and costly SouthPass plans for which they now want city approval? They shouldn't.

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