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Council OKs Douglas block buyout

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

In order to gain complete control of the Douglas Block, the Rocky Mount City Council agreed to pay nearly half a million dollars to the Rocky Mount Edgecombe Communtiy Development Corp.

City Attorney Jep Rose announced the settlement during Monday's City Council meeting. The agreement reached in 2017 stretches to 2020 with annual payments totaling more than $400,000.

Rose said the city and the CDC in 2009 entered into a complex structure to receive tax credits in order to redevelop the Douglas Block. When it came time to undue the structure, the city and the CDC disagreed on who should own the Douglas Block even though the CDC was in possession of related documents.

The city and the CDC reached a settlement with aid of an arbiter. Under the agreement:

■ The city received ownership free and clear.

■ The city paid CDC a $25,000 management fee.

■ CDC turned over all relative documents.

■ The city deeded a lot to the CDC with time conditions on development.

■ The city paid CDC annual payments totaling $424,000.

■ The city created the Douglas Block Advisory Board.

■ The city will continue to use grants to fund the CDC Housing Counseling Center and Business Development Center.

■ The city will continue to fund the CDC commercial development manager position.

■ The city and CDC agreed to continue cooperation on other projects.

■ The city and CDC agreed to hold each other harmless among other considerations.

Local business owner Lige Daughtridge, candidate for the Ward 5 seat on the City Council, told the council during public comment that he asked for information on payments made by the city to CDC last year at budget time.

Daughtridge said his questions went unanswered, but the amounts equal the ongoing settlement numbers.

"How can you call this transparent and good governance?" Daughtridge asked.

Rose said at the beginning of his statement that the city was making the settlement public due to concerns over the relationship between the city and the CDC in connection to a proposed housing project on Tarboro Street.

Daughtridge also addressed the Tarboro Street situation, questioning why the City Council was moving forward with affordable housing when city staff had created a draft agreement with Edgecombe Community College for parking at the site.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell said the council never voted to approve such an agreement.

Daughtridge held up a copy of the draft agreement while Blackwell was speaking.

After the meeting, Blackwell said the council never voted on the agreement.

The council did reach consensus not to consider the agreement, according to meeting minutes.

That would have been at a meeting in October. City staff was in talks with ECC to improve parking at the site across from the college's downtown campus while simultaneously working out a deal with an organization from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government to build housing units on the same spot, according to emails obtained by the Telegram via public records request.

Blackwell said he wasn't aware of what staff was planning and that several possibilities were considered for the Tarboro Street property — anything that would improve downtown.

Blackwell's email address was copied on mid-August emails detailing city staff communications with ECC regarding parking at the Tarboro Street site for Event Center activities, according to an email from City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney to all City Council members, including Blackwell.

"We are hopeful that ECC will approve our request to use the area for parking and that we can proceed with the needed improvements," Small-Toney said.

Housing seems to have been the long-term plan for the site, according to emails between Small-Toney and Tom Betts, an unofficial advisor.

In a late August email, Betts asked how long the site would remain parking versus housing.

"I have no idea, Tom. It all depends on Council's final decision and availability of funding," Small-Toney said. "Probably a year or two."

State funding was secured earlier this year and the city moved forward with housing plans.

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