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Critics pan downtown hotel plans

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Friday, July 5, 2019

What started out as a simple non-binding letter of intent presented six months ago during a hectic Rocky Mount City Council meeting is poised to become an $18 million downtown parking deck.

Proponents of the hotel — city officials and consultants — have said the project’s economic impact is projected to be around $100 million.

The downtown hotel project will mean 700 local jobs during its construction phase and $1 million in tax revenue, according to information provided by Alan O’Connell of Novogradac Consulting.

If approved, the city will provide $18 million and Hunt Services will put up $30 million for a hotel, parking deck, retail stores and condominiums.

So after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants, the council will hear public opinion on Monday and is expected to move forward with the project.

“There are alternative uses for $18 million that could benefit downtown and the city far more,” said council candidate Lige Daughtridge, who has been a vocal critic of the hotel and parking deck proposal. “$10.5 million could solve the downtown drainage issue; we could speed up the installation of sidewalks and road repairs throughout the city. If the developer is serious in his belief of the success of the hotel, there are far less expensive ways for the city to incentivize the project, such as providing 140 surface spaces instead of a parking deck, or property tax rebates.”

A return of $31 million in private money for $18 million in public money is not a great deal, according to a local real estate investor who asked not to be identified due to pending projects with the city.

“Imagine if we had said to developers, ‘If you put in $3 million to develop housing and retail in downtown, the city will put in $1 million,’” the investor said. “That would truly transform downtown.”

Jesse Gerstl, owner of the former Carleton House Hotel, said that project is on hold with focus shifted to other downtown properties.

“We have been in talks with the city for over a year about ways they could assist with the project, such as parking, sidewalks, landscaping, utilities and tax incentives,” Gerstl answered when asked whether the city had provided any economic development assistance to the project.

Gerstl said the hotel and parking deck development is baffling.

“I support any and all development in downtown Rocky Mount — however, it is frustrating to read that the city will have spent more on consultants for the project than we were requesting in incentives,” Gerstl said.

Editor’s Note: This is the final report in a series of articles on the Rocky Mount City Council’s plan to approve an $18 million downtown economic development project. A public hearing and vote on the project is set for Monday.