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  • By Lisa Brody

Development pact reviewed for new project

Birmingham city commissioners held a special meeting workshop on Monday, April 15, to review the proposed development agreement for the N. Old Woodward parking structure and Bates Street extension project between the city and Walbridge/Woodward Bates Partners, the development group chosen to do the project. Joe Fazio, development counsel, with law firm Miller Canfield, noted the last time he had met with the city commission on January 11, 2019, they had approved a non-binding pre-development agreement between the city and Walbridge/Woodward Bates Partners as well as an engagement and cost reimbursement agreement for design schematics for the parking deck and extension of Bates Street, for a cost of not more that $575,000. He said the date for the final development agreement had been informally extended to April 22, “when it will hopefully be approved.” The point of the special meeting workshop, Fazio said, was to explain the development agreement, which will establish critical deadlines for the city and the developers, as well as identify key documents going forward. “What it does not do is bind the city to proceed with the development,” Fazio said. “It just provides the outline and timeline of the project. There will be numerous approvals along the way. This development agreement lays the groundwork to move forward.” He pointed out it provides an express contingency for the issuance of bonds for the building of the parking garage, the first building that is planned to be built. “It confirms that each party is responsible for its own costs,” he said, as well as having sections that detail what each party needs to do to move beyond predevelopment. Among the proposed dates are May 6, when the guaranteed maximum price to build the parking deck will be given; around June 15, when preliminary site plans for the entire project are planned to be submitted to the planning board and other commissions; and July 3, when a parking mitigation plan the developer has been working on with the city will be submitted. It is estimated it will take 18 to 24 months to redevelop and construct a new parking garage. Other buildings would not be built until after the parking garage is completed. City manager Joe Valentine said that since a previous meeting on March 26, at which several neighboring residents and businesses spoke out about the size and scope of some of the buildings, “both the city and developer have reached out to neighboring buildings and developments in the last two weeks and participated in discussions. In followups to those meetings we had with the development group, they said some sites, especially sites four and five, accommodations would be made in scale. There is additional time to make changes to structures outside of the development agreement for buildings four and five.” “These buildings are not scheduled to be built for three or four years,” noted mayor Patty Bordman, who also said she thinks the developer should be “contributing substantially to the public plaza and the bridge to Booth Park,” both of which currently are part of the city's obligation. After a resident question, he confirmed that the special bond approval election in August would be paid for by the developer, up to $20,000. Commissioners Carroll DeWeese and Rackeline Hoff said that people had asked them why it would be on the August ballot rather than November's, when there will be a city election. “Because time is money,” Valentine responded. “The longer you wait, the more it costs for construction costs.” During public comment, former commissioner Gordon Rinschler said, “I know there's been a lot of trolling on the internet that you've handled it ineptly – that's all BS. I have problems with how the development agreement is structured...the question is should (we) do it – is it the best use of the money and can I explain it? I think the problem is you need to take a big chunk of time and discuss why you're doing it, and if you can't answer 'Should we take this trip,' pull the plug.”

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