Council keeps retail hope alive

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Staff will seek a new developer for the Trinity Site

By Jennifer Garcia

County councilors unanimously approved a motion at Tuesday’s council meeting that will keep the Trinity Development Project’s wheels in motion.

The motion authorizes staff to proceed with the process for solicitation of a developer for the redevelopment of the Trinity Site via direct engagement and a Request for Proposals.

What seemed like a sure thing came to an end last September when council decided to discontinue negotiations with the Boyer Company for the redevelopment of the Trinity Site. All hope was not lost, however. Though this action was taken, county staff continued to move forward with plans to redevelop the land parcels.

One of the biggest milestones in the redevelopment project was the completion of agreements between the county and schools regarding the conveyance of land and the lease agreement for the Trinity Site. As part of this agreement, the county and schools moved their offices from Trinity Drive to the Airport Basin Site. In addition, demolition activities at the Trinity Site have begun.

Jones Lang LaSalle has been hired to provide the county with development advisory services.

The Washington, D.C.-based company will help the county with redeveloping the Trinity Site. So far, the company has spoken to a handful of developers, but there have been no serious negotiations with them.

“We’ve spoken to about five or six developers who have the capital needed to complete the project,” Jonathan Walk of Jones Lang LaSalle said by telephone during last night’s meeting. “The capital markets are seeing a slight thaw across the country in terms of availability and lending.”

Councilor Robert Gibson wanted to know how the market had changed since councilors spoke to Walk two months ago. “Has there been that much of a thaw in two months?” Gibson queried.

“When we spoke two months ago, we were talking in terms of the overall market,” Walk said. “There is capital as far as equity capital in the market. Specific developers we’ve spoken to have been well capitalized. Overall, it’s not particularly that much better than it was two months ago, but with the proper capital stack, it could be possible.”

Councilor Nona Bowman told Walk she read that Mari-Mac Shopping Center owners have shown an interest in integrating the center with the Trinity Development.

“The people who are now renting are unhappy with the transfer because nothing’s been done to the parking lots. Roofs are leaking, heating systems are bad. How will you integrate the two?” Bowman asked Walk.

Walk said that their discussion, led by members of their retail group, showed a very high level of possible integration of the Mari-Mac into the Trinity Site Development. “That would be incumbent upon the developers to work out on their own,” he said. “That’s not something we’re going to get involved in. If it’s part of the proposals, we’ll evaluate it. We want to be as flexible as possible to potential developers,” he continued.

Bowman also questioned the feasibility of meeting the aggressive schedule related to this project, however County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro indicated that the schedule should not be an issue.

“We’d like to move forward at this pace, but some things are not totally in our control. We want to give you a sense of what our desire is. We want to get close, but we can’t make a promise that we will,” he said.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle reiterated a stance that he took during the Boyer negotiations, saying that he would not support a proposal unless it contained plans for a big box store. He said it’s what his constituents want and he will support that. Walk said that tenancy has not been discussed with the developers, so he could not say whom the development’s tenants would be.

Chiravalle pressed on, saying that he was afraid the development would not have much retail. He laid out a scenario in which the developer would choose to occupy the development with a hotel, conference center, a 50,000 square foot food store, a public parking structure, private office space and a county building.

“I don’t know where the scenario is coming from. We don’t have any proposals. Until we get those proposals submitted, we don’t know what kind of retail or office space they’re proposing,” Mortillaro said.

“You can’t rule out the scenario I just laid out. If we can’t rule that out, it says to me we have to have an RFI (request for information) process so the public can follow along as this unfolds,” Chiravalle responded.

Bowman also agreed that keeping the public informed is necessary in making this project successful. “I do think it’s important that we inform the public a little more often than what’s on this schedule,” she said.

Discussion of the topic wrapped up with council comments, during which Councilor Ralph Phelps said he was most enthusiastic about the core of the motion. He also said he’s opposed to a big box store sitting on asphalt. “Unless we open our minds to private/public partnership, it’s never going to happen,” he said.