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Downtown panel member questions hotel project

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Central City Revitalization Panel member Roslyn Haynes listens to discussion at the panel’s meeting on Thursday.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Monday, July 15, 2019

A consultant recently brought in by the Central City Revitalization Panel chairman to outline a Tennessee developer’s proposed multi-million dollar project for downtown Rocky Mount prompted questions and discussions.

Panel member Roslyn Haynes had what she believed was a key question.

Haynes wanted to know about the logic of having BWC Consulting Managing Partner Bridget Chisholm give a presentation after a 4-3 City Council vote to seek state approval of a financing structure to help David Hunt build an approximately $18 million parking garage.

Hunt wants to build a 109-room SpringHill Suites, 20,000 square feet of retail space and 60 residential units along with a parking garage adjacent to the Rocky Mount Event Center. The project is expected to cost more than $50 million, with Hunt to provide approximately $33 million in private investment for the lodging, retail and residential side.

Panel Chairman Garland Jones suggested bringing in BWC Consulting representatives to share details first-hand to the panel members.

During the meeting on Thursday, Haynes said based on the City Council meeting on Tuesday, she was under the impression that it has been decided who is going to do the project and that the project is going to get done.

“I don’t understand why we haven’t had some presentation before now, before the things have already been decided,” Haynes said. “And I also understand there were other people interested. And why didn’t they come before us to give a presentation?”

Jones said although there has been a lot of transitioning going on, he did not have answers.

“It’s here now — and we get to listen to it and we get to make a decision from it,” he said.

Haynes said, “It seems like it’s a done deal — and they’re just telling us.”

Assistant City Manager Natasha Hampton said the project, at least in concept, became public sometime in February because Hunt went to city officials.

“This was an unsolicited project from this developer,” Hampton said. “There was also a public notification for interest in developing this project that also went out.”

Jones noted he was at the council meeting when the project was announced. Haynes pointed out she did not remember the Central City Revitalization Panel ever having any discussion about the project.

“We didn’t have any discussion because I didn’t know what level it was at,” Jones said.

Haynes asked Chisholm for an example of where such a project has been successful.

Chisholm said Hunt is doing a condo-with-retail project in McMinnville, Tenn., a small city southeast of Nashville.

“He has done it in other markets in Tennessee that have been successful, which is what made him bring the concept to North Carolina,” Chisholm said.

Haynes made clear she would still like more information about what Hunt is doing.

Chisholm said such a project is not a new concept in real estate and has been done in more urban markets in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Panel member Jean Almand Kitchin wanted to know whether there are any places where such projects have not been successful and municipal governments had to step in with help with funding because such projects have not taken off to the extent one hoped.

Cedric Johnson, vice president for research and analysis with BWC Consulting, said the answer is no.

“The developer is not asking the city for anything in regards to the private components of this project,” he said.

Johnson emphasized the garage being the public piece of the project.

“Private developers don’t come in and build public infrastructure such as garages because that’s not a core component of private sector development,” Johnson said.

He said he believes the only way the project would fail would be if something happened similar to the aftermath of the 2007-08 burst of the nationwide housing bubble and the collapse of the financial markets on Wall Street.

And he said if the project in downtown Rocky Mount fails, then all of the risk falls on Hunt.