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City debates then approves Maxway RFP

Posted: October 24, 2013 4:49 p.m.
Updated: October 25, 2013 5:00 a.m.

 

Although Camden City Council ultimately gave the go-ahead for city staff to send out request for proposals (RFP) to develop the recently demolished Maxway property at Broad and Rutledge streets, some members expressed concern that things were moving too fast. The discussion came up during council’s Tuesday afternoon work session.

Staff drafted the RFP for interested developers to submit plans to not just develop the property but purchase it from the city as well. The city bought the long-vacant property from Redwood Homes LLC in July for $65,000. It then demolished the property, a project that is technically complete, although City Manger Mel Pearson told council the city is still addressing issues with a wall adjoining TenEleven Galleria through clean up and brick replacement efforts.

Pearson and Camden Economic Development Director Wade Luther said staff has timed the RFP with a 45-day response deadline to coincide with consulting firm Arnett Muldrow’s marketing, tourism and branding recommendations.

Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford said some people have asked her why the city wasn’t waiting until after Arnett Muldrow came forward with its recommendations to send out the RFP.

Pearson said it was Arnett Muldrow that encouraged the city to conduct the RFP now.

“From a timing standpoint, there’s no reason for us not to do that,” Pearson said. “You will have the authority to consider what happens on that lot, whether it be developed for a commercial concern, or parking or a park or whatever -- some combination of the three. So, it will come back to you early next year when we have their results and what we would like to do, at the appropriate time, is to have you help us form a committee to review those results -- both the RFP results and Arnett Muldrow results.”

Pearson said the city will promote the fact that it wants to capture ideas from the public, in writing, so they can also be presented to and reviewed by council as part of the options.

Councilwoman Laurie Parks also questioned the timing.

“What were the reasons that Arnett Muldrow encouraged us to send out this before they had even completed their study? I’m just thinking that it’s kind of cart before the horse,” Parks said, adding that she was worried about the public’s ability to submit ideas along with RFP responders.

Pearson said he did not see a problem.

“One does not preempt the other. You will have, again, the authority -- you have the authority -- to consider all of those options. We now have a virgin piece of property there that is available for development and, for the first time, it might be attractive,” he said, adding that it would have been premature for the city to have approached developers or brokers before the city demolished the former Maxway building.

Answering a question from Councilman Walter Long, Pearson indicated the city could seed the lot for grass, but had no plans to do so at the moment.

Councilman Willard Polk, too, questioned the timing of the RFP, saying even 45 days would not be enough time for developers to come up with a good plan. In an Oct. 17 memorandum to Pearson attached to Tuesday’s work session agenda, Luther said potential developers are to come up with proposals for the “highest and best use” of the site.

“I’m concerned this doesn’t give the developers enough time to do what is necessary to develop a good plan,” Polk said. “Not that I disagree with having an RFP done, because, like I said before, I think we need to offer this thing for commercial development as much as anything else as opposed to later on down the road being sorry that we didn’t do this. But I really feel like we’ve got a quick trigger on this. I really feel like we have not formed a committee, we don’t know what the committee’s supposed to be dealing with … and, again, I think the public perception is that they’re not going to be given the opportunity to have more time to give input.”

Pearson said, however, that staff used RFP templates from Florence, Columbia and other cities, many of which require potential developers to respond in only 30 days.

“We deliberately extended ours beyond the 30 days so that it would give (developers) the same amount of time that Arnett Muldrow’s going to have to come back with their final recommendations,” Pearson said. “Also in that window of time, we would request from the public to give us their ideas.”

Mayor Tony Scully said he believes a lot of specific ideas already being suggested by the public indicates a high level of enthusiasm for the project. Responding to that comment, Pearson said staff would rather find out sooner than later what developers and others think could be done with the property.

Polk confirmed with Pearson that the RFP requires potential developers to “put money on the table” to purchase the site as well to develop it.

“Because we don’t care what it costs them -- the acquisition cost as far as what we’re willing to accept from the developer is key to us,” Polk said.

Pearson agreed, adding that council has the right to refuse any or all of the RFP submissions.

He also said staff would like to see the current committees working with Arnett Muldrow “settle down” and form a new committee that could pick up early next year after Arnett Muldrow reveals its recommendations. At that point, most of council appeared to be satisfied with staff’s explanations. Polk still objected to the timing, but Pearson and Luther reiterated their belief that 45 days would be plenty of time for good proposals. They mentioned that the city of Columbia received six bids to redevelop the Palmetto Compress & Warehouse Co. building at the corner of Blossom and Pulaski streets. All six bids, they said, were returned within a 30-day timeframe.

“(It) is a very valuable piece of property in terms of the future of Camden,” Pearson said. “No matter what we sell this property for, if you were to do that, it is a very valuable piece of property for the future of Camden. No matter how you develop it -- whether a park or a park/parking lot -- it is extremely valuable; it will require the kind of input -- staff would want you to give you the kind of input we can get from this community in order to make that decision. That is very important to the downtown revitalization of Camden.”

Luther then went through the RFP itself which includes specific information for developers to know about the property. It states that the city will “entertain any viable development options that adhere to the city’s vision of development of this site, the Downtown Vision Plan, and the Comprehensive Plan. Interested parties should submit proposals for development that both respect and protect the historic nature of downtown Camden, while embracing the urban design guidelines for Corridor Overlay District #3.”

The RFP noted other recent development activity, including the Town Green, South Rutledge Street Parking Lot and Commerce Alley; various restaurants; the ongoing tourism and marketing study; a 2009 hotel market analysis; the purchase of a portion of the former Boylan-Haven-Mather Academy property; and underground utility projects.

“There’s no silver bullet for downtown redevelopment. There’s not going to be one project that turns things around. There’s going to be a series of projects that turns things around downtown,” Luther said.

He said he has conferred with his peers around the state and that their consensus is that now is an appropriate time to promote an “in-fill piece of property that is in a prime location … with a whole host of different possibilities.” Luther said such possibilities could include mixed-use residential/commercial purposes, a restaurant/plaza, hotel or a park with parking lot, “or a combination of any of those ideas” that could fit on the 13,000-square-foot lot.

In other work session business, council:

• met and heard from Mike Mikota, the new executive director of the Santee-Lynches Council of Governments;

• learned that the city’s next Community Shred Day is set for Nov. 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot to the left of Camden City Hall;

• learned that the city recently received approval for a $20,000 S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) Grant with a $5,000 city match to purchase new playground equipment for City Arena Park;

• received an update on work at the new wastewater treatment plant under construction, including news that the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control recently agreed to extend its deadline for the plant’s opening to May 1, 2014, due to rain delays;

• learned that while Camden itself may not be eligible for participation in a new tourism-oriented directional signage program, it may be able to assist with obtaining signage for several Kershaw County sites;

• received an update on Camden’s current electric rates, as compared to its peers showing that Camden is the next-to-lowest local provider of electricity in the county; and

• entered executive session to discuss an undisclosed real estate contractual matter, after which council took no action.

(Coming Monday: a look at Tuesday night’s regular meeting, including approval of a new wholesale electric power contract with Duke Energy Progress).

 

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