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While many citizens of South Carolina’s capital city were enjoying their family’s summer vacation, city council was rushing to proceed with a $31.25 million dollar plan to redevelop the old state hospital site on Bull Street. I say “rushing” because the public input process and two council votes on the project are occurring in just over one week. Plans of this magnitude deserve more time and more vetting.

I am supportive of the concept of the Bull Street Development Agreement but the public and City Council need more details.

In the proposed Bull Street Development Agreement, the City is contributing $31.25 million dollars to the developer’s Public Improvement Fund for his use.  He will be able to use these public dollars for the installation or maintenance of certain Public Facilities including “but not limited to: site preparation, demolition, asbestos abatement, contamination remediation, grading, landscaping, tree planting and removal, traffic signals, utilities, public roads and all associated work, storm water ponds, daylighting Smith Branch and stream restoration.” This definition does not include parking facilities or a baseball stadium.

Under the current agreement the developer could use public funds provided to him by the city to remove trees, do road work and/or demolish buildings. These funds are provided to the developer with very little or no oversight. The agreement does refer to another agreement called a Public Funding Agreement in which terms and conditions would be spelled out. So we have an agreement referring to another agreement that does not yet exist: No wonder the public is confused.

Two key questions on the massive deal still have yet to be answered. Where the money will come from and; what specifically the money will be used for and where on the site the public facilities will be built and maintained with public funds … because there is no Development Plan. The only schedule that exist is for the expenditure of the $31.25 million dollars in public funds.

Other details of the agreement remain unclear. During the first 12 months of this agreement, City Council is committing to provide the developer $16 million for two parking garages with 800 parking spaces each. Where will these millions of dollars come from since the parking fund as of May 31, 2013 was operating with a deficit?

Then on page 21 of the Development Agreement, the city is agreeing that a new baseball stadium is needed to facilitate a move that would bring a minor league baseball team to Columbia.  I don’t know much if anything about baseball leagues but I do know the struggles that the Bombers had over the years. Before you agree to explore investing an additional $20 million dollars of the public’s money, the private partner should first fund a feasibility study. The city should not be advancing this deal.

I am in no way advocating killing this deal. But the public deserves more time to review this agreement.

We need more time to clean up the language including typos as mentioned in the proposed ordinance.

We need more time to consult with our legal counsel about how we commit future City Councils to the deal and the financial obligations.

We need more time to determine the source of funds for the required $47.25 million and why the city is turning over millions of dollars to the developer so he can guide the expenditure of public funds with little or no oversight.

We need more time to amend the agreement to detail what the city’s ongoing annual maintenance and operating cost will be and a schedule of when these dollars will be needed. No estimate or schedule has been provided.

We need more time to better detail what the developer is bringing to the table. The document details the city’s financial and public service expectations but not that of the developer and how the deal will impact the city’s return on the public investment.

The city needs to put the brakes on the Bull Street project. City council needs more public input and we need greater details from the developer. Rushing this process over the July 4th holiday period is not the type of government citizens deserve and expect.

plaugh

Leona Plaugh represents District 4 on Columbia City Council. She can be reached at LPlaugh@aol.com.

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