DDA Failures Raise Ire Of WP Mayor And Business Owners

by Rick Langenberg:

Mayor Dave Turley is relaying one stern message to leading representatives of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and its prized Woodland Station venture: “I told you so.”

The mayor last week came out swinging again in expressing his opposition to the way city government funds are allocated towards this central development area, which has sit idle for nearly 10 years. Only now, Turley is upset over what he describes as outright failures in final Woodland Station contract plans that fall short in providing parking and abiding by needed infrastructure for the new Woodland Hardware store. Some DDA critics are classifying these shortcomings as breaking a key promise to local business operators. “I am concerned about the whole process,” blasted Turley, who gave city officials and DDA representatives a hefty tongue lashing at the Oct. 18 council session. “This is why we get our city governments in bad situations. I am very disappointed with the way this has turned out. I see this as a failure.”

Moreover, the mayor reminded city officials that this is why he voted “no” last spring, when the DDA was requesting additional loan money from the city to fund infrastructure work for three new projects and to issue new bond monies. The mayor raised a red flag about a lack of accountability, with the cost over-runs.

Turley’s comments capped a lively debate on what officials thought would turn into a routine approval of a new maintenance agreement for the Woodland Hardware project, dubbed as the starting point of the much touted Woodland Station venture, expected to be completed by next July.

Councilwoman Carrol Harvey, who previously served as the council’s DDA representative, agreed Turley had some valid points, but not for this specific request. If anything, she said the maintenance agreement would serve as a win/win for the city as it would let the store operators handle much of the maintenance duties. But the mayor still maintained that a lot more is at stake.

The centerpiece of the current controversy deals with the inability of the Woodland Station contractors to provide parking until the later part of the development stage, not scheduled to occur until next summer. DDA critics argue that these types of developments don’t have to follow the same rules as what applies to other businesses, outside of the DDA district. According to City Manager David Buttery, who has been acting as the DDA director, the on-street parking and a few other infrastructure components were removed from the equation due to a lack of money. He said the parking would be deferred, until the DDA generates more money, and temporary spots would be set up instead.

The DDA received an additional $1.2 million to cover the projected infrastructure costs, but this wasn’t enough to handle parking, according to DDA representatives. “The contractor just couldn’t afford it,” added Harvey.

What about previous promises?

This financial reality has some nearby business operators crying foul, since the new development takes away a key former Saddle Club lot used by many of their customers. “My business depends on a parking lot that no longer exists,” said Tony Wendt, owner of the Hungry Bear restaurant. He questioned decisions to value decorative lamps and other DDA beautification efforts over parking. In a recent letter, following last week’s meeting, Wendt also accused the city of constantly changing the rules regarding DDA projects. “I feel betrayed,” said property owner Ron Konieczny, who has a building that will sits next to the new store. “My issue is infrastructure. How, all of a sudden, do we have less parking? That should have been taken care of.”

In defending the new change in plans, DDA Board President Al Born explained that the so-called public lot business operators are upset about really doesn’t belong to the city. “It was on private property,” said Born. Similar sentiments were echoed by Councilman Terry Harrison, who noted that preserving this lot was never part of the deal.

Buttery, however, took a more compromising tone and maintained that the project proponents wanted to have on-street parking that would replace the 50-plus spots, located at the former Saddle Club lot. “it wasn’t our intent to eliminate that,” said Buttery. Like Harvey, he said money was the big issue.

The city manager vowed to work with the adjacent business owners to establish temporary parking spots that would meet their needs Konieczny welcomed this opportunity, but contended that some business operators aren’t getting a straight answer from city hall. “I am a fighter,” he added later in the discussion. “I protect my interests.”

Konieczny was one of two property owners that filed an appeal against the city’s proposed site plans for the $2.5 million, 25,000-square-foot Woodland Hardware project last summer. At the time, he and other business operators were upset about the parking and the impacts on the view corridor. Their appeal was rejected by the Board of Adjustment.

Besides infrastructure issues, Turley asked about any financial impacts with the delayed time schedule. Initially, project proponents indicated that the development would have to be completed by the end 2012, so the DDA could obtain enough tax increment financing funds to pay off the extra bond payments. But Buttery stated that this extra delay wouldn’t create any financial problems for the city or the DDA.