Kent City Council upped the ante on developing the Kemp Building on Gougler Avenue Wednesday, asking for 12 times the option price originally proposed by the developer after heated debate.
After endorsing the plan to redevelop the Kemp Building, at 110 Gougler Ave, council asked West Shore Development to pay $12,750 _ five percent of the proposed $255,000 purchase price _ for an option to purchase the building to guarantee the land would be available for West Shore's use.
The higher option price, more than 12 times the $1,000 proposed by West Shore, was approved by a 5-3 vote, with council members Jerry Fiala, Carol Neff and William Schultz casting the dissenting votes.
Schultz said raising the option price is "an attempt to ramrod this through and effectively kill the proposal."
"The price is more of a penalty to stop it," he said. "This is an old, abandoned building that has been sitting there for a while, and all of a sudden, it's a hot piece of property. If they're not able to find a tenant within six months, we lose. It's not conducive to redevelopment."
But Councilman Wayne Wilson said asking the developers to pay more for an option on the building demonstrates they are serious and have the ability to follow through with their plans. He also pointed out the developers did not attend the meeting to say they were opposed to raising the option price, and if they have those oppositions, they could always come back to council to say so.
"If I'm not serious, I can tie up a property for $1,000," he said. "Anybody can ... If we have a serious proposal here, then show me the money."
No one from West Shore attended the meeting. Jack Crews, the managing partner of the development company, said he did not know how council's decision would affect plans for the property when contacted this morning.
"I haven't talked to all our partners," he said. "We'll have to discuss it and determine what we'll do."
In addition to waiting on the developers' decision to accept or reject the higher option price, the project's future also hinges on a determination by the Ohio Ethics Commission that Crew's history with the city is not a conflict of interest.
While serving as Kent's economic development coordinator, a contractual position, Crews helped the city create the landbanking program that allowed the Downtown Kent Corp. to purchase the building using a line of credit from the city. Council opted not to renew Crews' contract in 1997.
"We had hoped that we would have (a decision) before yesterday," said City Manager Lew Steinbrecher today. "We really don't have an option until we get that back."
Council could not wait on the state commission before taking action on the option proposal. A decision had to be made Wednesday or council would risk losing the right to set any conditions on the proposal, said Law Director James Silver.
The city's contract with the Downtown Kent Corporation states council must act on proposals within 21 days of the day they are presented. Three weeks ago, council had discussed the proposal in executive session.
Other conditions of the agreement include requirements the city construct a public parking lot adjacent to the structure and remove a vacant green building next to the Kemp building.
The option would be limited to six months, and could be extended only if the developer has applied for permits but has not yet received them.
The financial issue generated the most debate, with Councilman Ed Pease arguing in favor of the $12,750 option _ five percent of the proposed purchase price.
During finance committee discussion, Schultz tried unsuccessfully to allow the city administration work with the developer to include in-kind services, like preliminary design and engineering work for utilities to serve the building, against the option price.
Later, Fiala offered instead to let Steinbrecher negotiate the option price with the developers. That motion was a tie vote, with Fiala, Schultz and Neff and Aimee Lyle voting for it, and Pease and councilmen Michael DeLeone, Dan Kamburoff and Wilson voting against it. Mayor John Fender was not permitted to break the tie during the committee meeting.
During the regular council meeting, Pease asked the matter be tabled, then offered to recess the meeting and bring in Councilman Robert Felton, who was home recovering from surgery. He acknowledged Fender could break the tie, but said it would be better for the issue to be decided by one of council's members instead.
"I don't know which way he'll vote, but it makes sense to have all of our members here when we're discussing an issue of this magnitude," he said.
The issue became a moot point when Lyle changed her vote, saying the option price should be council's responsibility and shouldn't be put on Steinbrecher.
Pease made a motion to accept the proposal, with a long list of conditions, most recommended by Steinbrecher. He said he had been disappointed council had received only one option on the building and was distressed by the time constraints placed on council.
However, he added, the option should be accepted because he respects opinion.