Council still divided on funding for 10th Street project

Published 7:01 pm Thursday, June 6, 2019

WEST POINT — Members of the West Point City Council appear concerned about depleting a special account for an economic development venture on East 10th Street.

At Thursday’s work session, Coleman Reeves, owner of CDR Ventures, cleared up his involvement with the deal, which involves the West Point Development Authority and a land owner on East 10th Street between Avenues H and I.

Reeves has negotiated with the property owner to purchase the land for $258,000. After the purchase, CDR would clear off the property, except for a few structures that are inhabited. Then, CDR would sell the property to the development authority for $288,000.

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The development authority has requested $80,000 from the city’s Forward Fund Account to offset some of the cost in purchasing the land from CDR. According to city documents, the mission of the Forward Fund is to encourage sustainable community development projects that further the economic growth of the community, create employment and housing opportunities for residents and generally improve the city. City documents also say the specific focus for the program is the 10th Street redevelopment plan.

The development authority said it doesn’t want to buy the property outright is because it doesn’t want to be a landlord to tenants. According to the terms of the deal, once the property no longer has tenants, the development authority would have the first opportunity to buy the property from CDR.

On Thursday, Reeves said his involvement in the project isn’t a necessity, and he would pull out if that was a sticking point.

“The only contingency on this contract is the commitment of the city council to allow the funds from the Forward Fund,” he said.

Councilman Alanteo “Henry” Hutchinson said he has concerns with the commitment of funds to the development authority, but it doesn’t have to do with Reeves’ involvement.

“When it comes to the Forward Fund, it is best that we do our due diligence to spread those funds out,” he said. “The Forward Fund is about to be depleted, and if that is not concerning to anyone else, it is concerning to me.”

Councilwoman Deedee Williams said there aren’t many people who are going to argue that the property is an eyesore and something needs to be done.

“I think the city would be remiss if they didn’t involve themselves in making that happen,” she said. 

However, she added that there seems to be a pattern of city discussions about property purchases, even though it is the development authority making the purchase.

“My concern is that we need to be good stewards of the citizen’s funds, and we can’t enter into something without looking at it from every angle,” Williams said. “We need to make [our city] look better, but we don’t need to continue to make decisions to spend money without making absolutely sure that we are spending it the way we would spend our own money.”

According to City Manager Ed Moon at a May 28 meeting, the current land owner isn’t interested in improving the property or bring residences on that property up to code. He said the city has taken code enforcement action against the owner and will continue to do so.

If CDR purchases the property, Reeves said residential units would remain on a quarter of the property, and he would bring those residences up to code and maintain them.

Williams said there are likely other property owners in the city who would like to see the city or development authority purchase their property for several times its worth and tell them it’s no longer their concern.

“That is the way it appears, that we buy property, we don’t enforce the code against the owners, and then others we tell them they will have to demolish it or bring it up to code,” she said. “Consistency, transparency and all the other things I always talk about applies to this decision.”

West Point Mayor Steve Tramell said he’s worried that if the development authority and CDR don’t complete the deal, someone else will come in and buy the property, do the minimum amount of work to bring it up to code and generate money off the land.

In the past, Hutchinson has also expressed concerns about other projects being completed on 10th Street without any development. He pointed to two other projects cleared off by the West Point Development Authority — one between Avenues F and G, and one directly across from the location being discussed Thursday.

However, Hutchinson said the city is committed to the redevelopment of 10th Street, regardless of whether or not funds from the Forward Fund are provided.

“If it has not been shown that the council hasn’t been committed to the 10th street redevelopment, then I don’t know how it could be shown,” he said.

He said he is worried that the development authority wouldn’t do the project without the funds, but he hopes it happens regardless.

“I hope we can figure this out,” Hutchinson said. “If the council commits to doing it or the council doesn’t commit to doing it, I still hope the development authority finds a way to make it happen.”

West Point Development Authority Executive Director Meghan Duke told the Valley Times-News Wednesday that if the council doesn’t commit to providing $80,000 from the Forward Fund, the development authority would have to decide if it wants to pay that amount to continue with the project.