GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The city of Greenville is now on the clock to make a pivotal decision. They have until early 2017 to determine what to do with the former Imperial Tobacco Warehouse site, which is a large piece of property in the Uptown district.
Several years ago, the city purchased the site for an initial cost of $1, primarily so they could apply for, and eventually receive, a $400,000 grant to clean up contaminants left from the old warehouse.
Following that cleanup, however, the city must determine whether to spend more than $1 million to purchase the entire property, purchase a portion of the property, or let the private sector purchase it. The decision comes down to whether the city wants control over future development on the land or not.
“We’re glad the students are here, but we’d like to see more market rate housing. This is an opportunity to do that,” said Councilman Rick Smiley, who said the piece of property is a way for the city to invest in itself.
During Monday’s council meeting, council members went back and forth debating what to do.
“This area of the community is really shaping up regardless, and I do believe the private sector does a good job at determining what fits, and what does not,” said Councilman McLean Godley, who is against spending taxpayer money for the project.
Godley and Councilman P.J. Connelly argued to keep the $1 million expense off the upcoming city budget.
“Why are we risking the taxpayers money,” asked Connelly. “I guess that comes down to it. That to me it’s not a prudent decision, risking the taxpayers money.”
Both councilmen argued the private sector could figure out how to best use the land for future development without the city getting involved. But Councilman Smiley argued that without involvement, the city risks a bad economic deal.
“The argument that we should not be taking risk is facetious,” he said. “We risk exist. You know there is just as much a risk in not doing something as there is in doing something.”
The site is also complicated by the Sidewalk Development Group’s plan to build a new apartment complex where city and police parking currently sits at the corner of Dickinson Ave. and Reade Ct. Under that agreement, the city is obligated to build more than 200 parking spots within 400 feet of the complex.
Originally, the plan was to use part of the Imperial site to fulfill that obligation.
Greenville Economic Development Director Roger Johnson said that really leaves the city with two options.
“Purchase a portion of that land for parking, or find an alternative location, which is yet to be found,” he said.
Johnson said it doesn’t matter who actually owns the land, as long as it is developed in a sound manner that benefits the city.
Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas said directors with Uptown Greenville have said the property is a critical piece in their plans to revitalize Dickinson Ave. and expand Uptown Greenville.
Council members have given the green light for a feasibility study on the property to determine possible uses going forward. They will wait until this is complete before making a final decision.