A year-old deal, in principle, to spend several million dollars of taxpayer money redeveloping a part of West Verona Avenue that has already been torn down is getting some additional financial scrutiny.
The Verona Common Council met in closed session Monday to review an analysis of the project provided by the city’s financial adviser, Ehlers. It spent more than an hour discussing that, as well as an unrelated negotiation and had nothing substantive to announce afterward.
“Negotiations are ongoing, and we will have updates when we have news,” was all Mayor Luke Diaz said.
The project has been in the works for more than two years and contains 284 apartments in five buildings, with first-floor retail in two of them totaling 26,000 square feet, plus a 120-room hotel and convention center. It would replace what had been 10 separate properties containing an abandoned truck stop, an auto repair shop, a car wash, a volleyball court and some older apartments.
The city created a tax-increment financing district, TID 9, in September 2017 specifically for the project. The TID project plan authorizes spending up to $5.4 million on infrastructure, teardown and site pollution cleanup, among other things, for what is expected to be a $30 million to $40 million set of buildings.
The first two phases (the hotel and mixed retail/apartment buildings) have gotten final plan approvals, and developer representative Ron Henshue told the Press Monday night contractors are ready to go as soon as an agreement is signed.
Henshue, who waited in the audience for the discussion but did not stick around for the closed session to conclude, explained that a change in the way Forward Development Group planned to link the TIF request to the property (connecting it to buildings, rather than land) to finance it complicated how the project is being evaluated.
Monday, before going into closed session, interim city administrator Adam Sayre said the discussion was to both update the analysis provided and ensure city staff would be on the same page with alders when they resume talking to FDG.
Prior to his ouster in February, city administrator Jeff Mikorski had taken the lead in negotiations, and since the TID was created, the council has a new mayor and five new alders.
But FDG has been confident enough that it cleared the property in May, and in getting approval for a hotel in April, it projected opening by next spring. Henshue said Monday construction documents are ready but the start date has been delayed by 45 days while waiting for the deal, which would put it around Labor Day.
Sayre told the Press last month the analysis required getting access to a variety of information from the developer to ensure the project meets the “but for” test, meaning it would not happen without the city’s help.