Today, the Mobile City Council will meet in executive session to review the final to proposals for the redevelopment of the Mobile Civic Center property. This is not the final step in the process before the project is awarded, but it is certainly the beginning of the home stretch for the process. The mayor’s administration has promised that there will be a robust and thorough public examination of the project once a final bid is selected. I have no doubt that this will happen as Mayor Sandy Stimpson and his administration have been known to be truthful. However, there are still several concerns that I would like to see addressed during the selection process before everything is completed.
Did we select the best project for Mobile?
I think it is imperative that once the final bid is selected for this project, that the citizens of Mobile get to see the other ideas that were presented to the city that was not selected. if not every single bid that was submitted to the city during the process, I do think that the final two bids should be released.
One of the development teams that are the finalists for the project has certainly made it known in the media that they do not feel like they are getting a fair and equal shot at the project from the city. They have aired their frustration to the local media that the mayor and city council have not accepted an invitation to visit and tour a similar property to what they want to do in Mobile like the mayor and certain members of the Council have done with the other development team by visiting Louisville Kentucky and the 4th Street Live! project by The Cordish Companies. They have also expressed frustration that they will not be allowed to have representatives of their development team in the part of the executive session that will review their proposal.
The response from the other development team has been radio silence.
Sometimes the best way to determine if you’ve got the best deal possible is through comparison. The only way we the general public will be able to compare the two projects and know we got the best possible project is if all the information related to both development proposals is released.
Because the redevelopment of the Mobile Civic Center property is going to be a public private partnership (also known as a P3), there are financial considerations that need to be considered by the public, the city council, and the city administration.
If the Civic Center property is going to remain in the ownership hands of the city of Mobile, the appraised value of the property as it sits right now needs to offset any tax abatements or financial incentives given to the developer. The reason for this is because this taxpayers of the city of Mobile are providing a tangible asset of value to the developer by not making the developer come out of pocket to purchase the property.
Furthermore, if the property remains in the hands of the city, the amount of property taxes that would have otherwise had to have been paid by the developer on this project also needs to offset any tax incentives or abatement given to the developer with this project. This is also an asset of value the city is providing to the developer because the developer will not have to come out of pocket for the cost of the property taxes that would have otherwise had to have been paid to the city, the county, the school system, and the state (government-owned property is not assessed property taxes). For example, if the tax incentives and abatement agreement is for 30 years, and the property taxes they would have otherwise had to have been paid on the property is $100,000 a year then $3 million in offsets is deducted from the total amount of incidents and offered to the developer.
Also there should be a clause in the agreement that any sales tax is generated from any business located inside the city of Mobile city limits that relocates to the redeveloped Civic Center Property should not be calculated as a part of any tax abatement and incentive package. Typically in this type of agreements any sales tax revenue generated above and beyond what a business that relocates to a subsidized commercial development generated at its old location would be included in the tax abatement and it’s in his packages, but the level that it generated at its previous location would be exempt. I think the city of Mobile needs to ask for an exemption for all of the sales tax revenue from any business that relocates to the Civic Center property to encourage the developer to seek out new businesses that are not currently in the city to attract them to this location. Of course any business owners that currently conduct business in the city that choose to expand their operations, or open a new business in the property, while continuing to operate their current business would be included in the abatement and incentive calculations.
One Last Thing
One final thing I would like to see the city do as a part of this redevelopment project is roll out a proposal to connect with pedestrian and bicycle paths the Civic Center property, Fort Conde Village, and city owned properties on the waterfront like the cruise terminal and the Gulf Quest Maritime Museum. The city already owns some land right there where Interstate 10 meets water Street, and ALDOT would like to give the city even more land right there where RV City pops up every year during Mardi Gras. I would like the, city as a part of any plan to connect these properties to develop a park right there next to Fort Conde Village, you could even call it Fort Conde Park, so the current residents in that area, as well as any new residents that come along as a part of the development will have an urban green space that they can use for leisure, relaxation, and family time. also connecting these properties would be beneficial to all of them allowing for more people to have access to them, as well as making them more attractive to new business to move into the area.