City gives nod for land sale to developers to move ahead

A lot adjacent to Chubby’s Chicken is expected to be sold for development of student housing.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Peerless Developers showed City Commissioners a rendering of what they intend to build.
Special to the Outlook

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

A meeting that was requested when developers expressed interest three months ago to purchasing city-owned property took place, but the outcome is unlikely to stop the sale.

However, negotiations between the city and Peerless Developers will include consideration of some community benefits that came out of the meeting. A list of nine requests was offered by the Frenchtown Community Action Team, with the developers expressing interest in negotiating at least more than half of them in the purchase agreement.

Peerless Developers, a Chicago-based company, wants to purchase a city-owned quarter-acre lot between Macomb Street and Chubby’s Chicken on West Tennessee Street. The plot will be the final piece of land where Peerless plans to build 300 student housing units and 15,000 square feet of commercial space.

Neither commissioners nor representatives of Peerless who spoke by Webex during last Wednesday’s meeting mentioned what amount was offered. However, Mike Cordaro, founder of Peerless Development, said they were purchasing the surrounding properties at costs above market value.

The City Commission voted 3-2 to go forward with negotiations for the sale. Concerns over losing the historic Leon Theater on the lot and making the sale without bidding were expressed by commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter, who voted against the sale.

Mayor John Dailey along with Commissioners Dianne Williams-Cox and Curtis Richardson voted to negotiate the sale. Both commissioners essentially said it was too late to pass on the offer from Peerless because the surrounding properties are already done deals.

Peerless was asked to meet with the Frenchtown CAT group in December when the developers first appeared before the commission. Williams-Cox specifically asked that they find a way to employ residents of the area. She also asked that money from the sale of the property go to affordable housing in Frenchtown, a stance she reiterated during the meeting.

Given that the sale to Peerless will go through, Williams-Cox urged the CAT group to seek out other properties in Frenchtown that could be purchased by the city for development that serves the community.

“We’ve got to get in the game,” Williams-Cox said. “We’ve got to get in there and have some money. Hopefully some of these proceeds will help to do that.”

Williams-Cox also reminded the developers that the project will stand as part of the gateway to Frenchtown and should have appeal. Joseph Patrick, director of Development with Peerless, promised to do just that.

“We intend to create a quality design with quality materials that fits into the context and theme of the neighborhood,” Patrick said.

He was actually responding to one of the CAT group’s requests that the developers build a façade in line with the Frenchtown theme and allow community members to be part of the design of the buildings.

Among the other requests made by the CAT group, was an ask for $250,000 to go to restoration of a historic property on Brevard Street. They also asked for community meeting space to be built as part of the development. Both were rejected by Peerless.

The developers also said they couldn’t fulfill the group’s request for minority contractors to receive 45 percent of the work. But they did meet with Darryl Jones, Deputy Director of the Office of Economic Vitality for Minority, Women and Small Business, to determine a better percentage, said Cordaro.

They agreed on offering 23 percent of the contracts to minority women and small businesses, he said.

“We believe that to be a good aspirational goal for us,” Cordaro said.

Before the board’s final vote, city manager Reese Goad said his staff will take direction from the commissioners. He also added that “the direction is to keep the proceeds in the neighborhood. I think that’s controlling.”

Beverly Williams, co-chair of the CAT group, expressed disappointment in the outcome of talks with Peerless. Members of the group didn’t have much confidence that the outcome would have been different than it ended, she said.

“To me, it’s superficial,” she said of the talks. “The one thing that was really alarming to me was the fact that they suggested that we go to the CRA to get funding for any property or any projects that needed financial support.”

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