- By HALEY WALTERS TODAY’S NEWS-HERALD
The city authorized the purchase of the 1.5-acre Springberg McAndrew Park property on McCulloch Boulevard for $1.05 million in a 5-2 City Council vote Tuesday night.
The majority of councilmembers agreed to secure the downtown land at $16 per square foot as an investment in the community. The vote marks an end to nearly a decade of talks between the city and soon-to-be former owners, Brian Springberg and Michael McAndrew.
“This isn’t a new concept. This is an opportunity. If we don’t take advantage of it now, when will we? So I look at it as an investment either way. The property hopefully down the road comes to fruition to what the Vision 20/20 program has brought it to be but if not, it’s still a parcel of land that’s worth money at the end of the day,” Vice Mayor Jeni Coke said.
By taking the property off the tax rolls, the city will no longer collect $761.01 in property taxes each year, but potential future development could help increase sales tax revenue and property tax value, Councilman Cal Sheehy said.
Councilmembers Michele Lin and Gordon Groat voted in opposition of the purchase.
“I see a lot of blue sky here – a little bit thin on actual facts of the development,” Groat said. “My concern is that if I, as an individual investor could not make this decision, it could not be proven that we as a municipality are in fact the developer of last resort.”
Lin said she wanted to give the community more opportunity to weigh in on the decision and wanted more assurance that the land would be developed.
Mayor Mark Nexsen said he understood the apprehension posed by Groat and Lin, but added a city investment now could help it control how the land is developed in the future.
“We can either control our future, or let our future control us. That’s really what this decision is all about,” Nexsen said before calling for a motion on the purchase.
There are no formal plans to move forward with development or improvements on the lot, although it’s been named in the city’s Vision 20/20 plan as a possible site for a future town square. Nexsen said if that town square is developed, the city could then work with a commercial real estate company to subdivide the remaining land and open it up for private development.
“This isn’t going to be an overnight project. It will take time. The real issue tonight is if we take control of that property so the community has a say in what goes there at a future date,” Nexsen said.
One thing is certain, Sheehy said, the city doesn’t intend the land be used as a park.
“I think there’s some confusion because the area’s currently referred to as a park, and we’re just adding to our park system, which is not really the intention. The intention is to find a very strategic opportunity to use a large public space in our downtown to create a gathering place,” Sheehy said.
The city will use funds from bond proceeds to make the purchase, which are funds exempt from the city’s expenditure limitation, City Manager Charlie Cassens said.
“The money was borrowed to fund a laundry list of items and this purchase falls within the parameters of this laundry list so the purchase is fully secured in respect to the expenditure limitation issue,” Cassens said.
The purchase does not replace any capital improvement projects, such as parks, currently in the works, Sheehy said.