Last night’s city council meeting

Here are my notes from last night’s city council meeting:

Seasons Road Business Center – Council passed a 15-year property tax abatement for a $12.4 million industrial building at the southeast corner of the Seasons Road / Route 8 intersection. It will bring 60 new jobs to town, with a $2 million payroll. The building will be 217,000 square feet. For a frame of reference, it’s twice as big as any of the existing buildings. What an amazing thing their development has been for Stow’s tax and job base!

There have been some school teachers getting angry in Columbus about these kinds of deals. Their protests show a misunderstanding of how these abatements operate. We only abate the tax on the “new” value (i.e., the $12.4 million). The owner still pays tax on the existing value. The owner also makes a payment of 50% of the new value to the school district. Fifty percent of something is better than 100% of nothing. And after the abatement period ends, the owner pays full freight.

Roads – It’s been one of my missions to give Stow the best roads in Summit County. Last night, council passed a plan to do that. I’m going to post more content on that plan next week, along with maps and charts of what we intend to do.

Downtown Stow – The most contentious debate last night was whether to buy the residence between the Post Office and Senior Center for a price of $231,000. The fair market value is somewhere south of that, but there’s no question the property is useful (perhaps necessary) for a serious downtown project.

In the past couple months, Mayor Pribonic and his administration have sought to use that land for a Rec Center, which would be privately developed and privately managed. Buying this house would be a pre-condition for the development team to give us concrete development plans and a proposal for how Stow would be compensated for its land. The administration earnestly sought council’s approval of the purchase.

The purchase failed to obtain a majority approval from council, failing by a 3-3 vote (Costello, D’Antonio and Harrison voted “yes”). I voted “no.”

If you’ve followed this process for the past couple of years, you know I’ve been one of the biggest advocates of a Downtown Stow. Maybe it’s biggest cheerleader. Why not approve this component?

Because I told you from the beginning, “We are doing this without risking taxpayer dollars, and we are either going to do it right, or we won’t do it at all.”

The Rec Center plan would be GREAT, if we can ensure it’s a credible one.

The development team has never built anything other than some vet clinics. Their main source of cash is a professional athlete whose identity they won’t disclose. They do not propose any method for compensating Stow for its land. Their main goal is to build basketball courts for camps, and they agreed to do the Rec Center only upon the city’s suggestion.

These aren’t insurmountable problems, but they should give everyone pause.

How could they prove their credentials and bona fides? Three things come to mind: (1) The team could offer to buy the land for $231K themselves, to show they’re serious. (2) They could prove they actually have the funds, by disclosing the athlete’s identity and by providing a bank’s commitment letter to lend the $6-$8 million that would be necessary (beyond the team’s own investment). (3) They could link up with a professional developer, whose portfolio of successful projects would assure us of quality and professionalism.

In my day job, I’m a business and real estate lawyer. If you’re not in my world on a daily basis, you might be wondering, why so picky?

Well, there are grave consequences for getting in bed with an unqualified or underfunded developer. What happens if they aren’t as serious as we think? What happens if their pro athlete backs out? The seller of this land isn’t going to just give us the $231,000 back (nor should he).

Here is an even graver possibility: What happens if their cash dries up in the middle of the project? Who provides the $5 million to finish the project? (Hint: The City doesn’t have that kind of disposable cash.) To have a half-completed eyesore next to City Hall would make Stow the laughingstock of Summit County.

I want to be clear: We should buy this land, if we have a credible plan for its use. This team may ultimately step up to the plate and be that credible plan. I won’t close the door on that possibility.

We must be prudent with the city’s money. And under no circumstances can we rest the hopes of a Downtown Stow on a party that has not given us proof of capacity to perform. I’m not a “no,” but I’m a “not yet.”

Next meeting – Council will meet next on May 9.