The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an option/incentive agreement Thursday night it hopes will transform a long-closed apparel plant into a thriving complex of new uses.
That decision, involving the former Spencer’s Inc. industrial property downtown, paves the way for the development of an 80-room boutique hotel and banquet hall, an 80-unit market-rate apartment complex and a performing arts/business center. These represent a total investment of $28.5 million, plus new jobs.
Thursday night’s move is viewed by officials as a key step in a redevelopment process that has been under way for more than two years since the city government bought the 9.5-acre Spencer’s site and its familiar blue buildings.
“Can I say hallelujah?” Mayor David Rowe asked after the unanimous vote.
Mac McCarley, a Charlotte attorney and redevelopment expert contracted earlier this year to aid Mount Airy in the revitalization process, said during Thursday’s meeting that the effort now in the works could be only the beginning.
“This is a catalyst project that should seed other development in the area,” McCarley said of additional buildings on the sprawling Spencer site which are available for revitalization. He said it will allow the property to “avoid deterioration — and probably the blight that goes along with that — if you do nothing.”
City Attorney Hugh Campbell cited the three initial developers for their input — Dana Bryson represented the hotel/banquet center effort; Ken Reiter, the upscale apartments; and Tom Webb, the performing arts/business center.
Bryson is a partner in a Winston-Salem development group that owns and operates facilities including Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem and The Village Inn Event Center in Clemmons, while Reiter owns the Belmont Sayre real estate development firm in Durham.
Webb is a longtime local businessman whose plans for a regional dinner theater and business center only recently became public.
Campbell said Bryson and Reiter have been part of the process for more than a year, and are committed to their respective projects.
“I have a very good feeling that this is not just a dance — it’s a serious relationship now,” the city attorney said.
Meanwhile, Webb’s plans are a key part of the redevelopment, an entertainment component especially needed to put heads in the beds for the hotel.
“It’s been kind of a lynch-pin for the whole process,” Mayor Rowe said of that segment.
Under the agreement OK’d Thursday, each developer has a two-year option to buy property, with the city to recover $35,000 from each when those options are exercised, a total of $105,000 — what it paid for the site in 2014.
Along with granting the three developers exclusive options to buy portions of the complex, the pact calls for the city government to appropriate up to $382,500 for certain “predevelopment” activities.
Campbell explained that this sum will cover items such as engineering studies and architectural drawings that are needed up-front. “We’re not doing any heavy infrastructure (work) until we know these projects are a go,” he said.
The infrastructure costs, for street and other improvements, have a potential price tag of $4.5 million, which officials hope to offset to some degree with grant funding.
Campbell said another big question mark involves whether the redevelopment can receive historic tax credits available for renovation of old mill sites, which would be a major boost from the financing standpoint.
The attorney said it is important to keep in mind that if those credits aren’t awarded, it will not be economically feasible for the redevelopment to occur.
“If the tax credits come, it’s anticipated these three developers will exercise their options,” Campbell said of the private parties who also will be responsible for predevelopment activities.
The timeline calls for two years of those activities, which are to end when building permits are issued. The city then would be repaid predevelopment costs, with infrastructure work and construction to begin at that point.
A payoff of $117,990 in combined annual property tax revenues is anticipated by the municipality from the three projects, in addition to other possible revenues generated as a result.
“Hopefully, it builds a huge revenue stream going forward,” Campbell said of the plans by Webb and the others.
The tone among city leaders Thursday night indicated they are choosing to look on the bright side of things — that the effort will be wildly successful.
“I’m just glad we’re getting started on the Spencer’s property,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said after the vote. “It’s just sitting there doing no one any good.”
“I’m excited about the potential for the Spencer’s property,” said Commissioner Steve Yokeley regarding what’s planned there. “I think it’s going to be a big improvement for everyone in the city.”
Mayor Rowe said he is anxiously awaiting the time everything comes together, referring to one of the tasks he often is called upon to lead — ribbon cuttings for new business enterprises.
“I want to live long enough to cut the ribbon into the Spencer’s redevelopment.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.