Paducah mayoral candidates George Bray and Richard Abraham discussed the $21 million City Block project this week, in anticipation of Tuesday’s vote on the development agreement with Weyland Ventures.
In his remarks, Bray said he thinks some elements of the agreement could be more fair to the city and that improvements could be made, expressing concern about potential “open-ended” costs for remediation and utilities. He believes the payment time frame — spread out over years — could be better suited for the city.
“I think some of these things are typical in development agreements, but I just felt like that the city could’ve done a better job of protecting themselves and holding Weyland accountable on a time frame,” he said.
He’s “not 100% against” the project and sees potential value in it.
“If you look at where the City Block is, the river notwithstanding and the parking lot notwithstanding — if you look at where it is — it is a very desirable location and a very desirable piece of land.
“If we put together a successful project, then potentially it would draw people into our downtown. It would create more traffic downtown. There’s been certainly a lot of discussion about parking and I think parking is probably always going to be an issue with a successful project, but I don’t think parking is a reason not to do this project.”
If it’s successful in creating excitement around the project, Bray thinks there will initially be retail stores wanting to locate there and, in the long run, it’d create demand for some open store fronts that are available now.
Bray said he’d prefer a time frame where, if elected mayor, he’d be able to make the decision with a new commission. He also thinks there needs to be improved communication about what the project means to Paducah and how it might work.
“I feel like that the commission needs to slow down and take a look at that contract,” he said. “I believe Weyland is very interested in Paducah and I believe they hold value for Paducah, but I think it has to be win-win.”
He’s spent a “significant” amount of time with Weyland Ventures in the last few days, trying to understand the project better.
“They have an affinity for Paducah and they want to be here in the long run,” he said.
“And to have a group like Weyland, who has the expertise and the background to do this, is an opportunity for Paducah that we need to strongly consider. In addition, they want very much to use local investors as part of the project, so there’s going to be local people who want to invest or want to be involved in the project — (they’re) going to have that opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Abraham provided a roughly 700-word statement to The Sun that addressed various related issues and City Block, including a recent letter by McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer to Paducah city officials.
The letter expressed concerns about a two-year continuation of a prior “right of first refusal” agreement with a hotel developer for 501 N. Third St., also known as a former nursing home site. The agreement expired in July.
The site has been suggested by some as an alternative location for the proposed City Block hotel, while an ordinance that approves that two-year extension is up for vote Tuesday.
“I totally agree with the fiscal court judge’s assessments, regarding the ... right of first refusal,” Abraham wrote.
“My concerns were piqued when realizing that I am not the only one thinking that this ‘extension’ of the ROFR, is specifically focused on taking that old nursing home site, away from the city for discussion of placement of Weyland Ventures hotel.”
Abraham said he’s for progress and wants to see downtown businesses thrive, adding that a having a hotel placed in any of the other sites identified by an out-of-town consultant would be interesting to discuss.
“But just because a study was done by an ‘out of town’ consultant, that states that the gazebo/parking lot area would be a great place for a hotel, does not mean that is what we, as a municipal are desirous of,” he wrote.
“That is only a suggestion. We, as a board, are to listen to our constituents and their concerns. That piece of property is a catalyst for many of our events, as well as providing parking, when events are not happening. All downtown businesses will benefit from any hotel, in the TIF (Tax Increment Finance District) area. The only difference that I could perhaps imagine are particular property values rising tremendously, that are closest to a new hotel.”
Abraham concluded by stating “we must not kill the golden goose,” by altering the City Block area to what he called an “unfamiliar, unwelcome” structure.
Bray and Abraham advanced to the Nov. 3 general election after becoming the top vote-getters in the June 23 primary. Write-in mayoral candidate Dujuan Thomas also can receive votes in November, but he won’t be on the ballot.