The proposed $21 million City Block project is scheduled for a vote Aug. 11, when city officials may approve a development agreement with Louisville-based developer Weyland Ventures.
The Sun contacted Paducah’s eight city commission candidates to get their thoughts on the project this week, following Tuesday’s ordinance introduction on the City Block agreement.
It includes a $12 million boutique hotel, parking with 172 spaces, green space, an urban park and $9 million mixed-use residential and commercial buildings on the Second and Broadway lot. It’s a “keystone” project for the city’s planned Tax Increment Finance district that encompasses roughly 315 acres downtown, downtown development specialist Katie Axt said Tuesday.
Under the agreement, Weyland Ventures would purchase two of three tracts on City Block ($296,000 total) to develop the different buildings, while the city keeps an approximately 79,000-square-foot tract with parking, the urban park and green space. It’d make improvements on the city-owned tract, while the city reimbursed for development expenses.
Lakilia BedeauBedeau explained that, when she thinks about the proposed project, she thinks about a trip she made with local leaders to Greenville, South Carolina. It was to gain insight on how they went about building a thriving downtown, while attracting businesses and young professionals.
“It’s a creation. Didn’t happen overnight,” she said.
“Diversity is important when trying to accomplish what Greenville has done. The key is to have a small group of nine to 10 people who are going to stay the course even when there is adversity. There needs to be a special focus on communication and the marketing strategy.”
Bedeau noted Greenville has a similar makeup to Paducah with access to waterways, railway and major interstates. She cites it as an example of why thinks the City Block project would be a great opportunity for Paducah.
“However, ... I think citizens need to be educated on the benefits, the pros and cons a little bit more,” she said.
Carol GaultGault said she doesn’t support the project as proposed, adding that she has questions that include issues like whether the lot’s value is fair market value and what the collateral would be.
“And then there’s loose things in that agreement like between a 40 and 100-room boutique hotel,” she said. “Well, that’s a pretty heavy swing. That’s 60 rooms. ... It’s things like that in the agreement that just give me a lot of concern.”
Gault thinks the city has to be careful “not to kill more business” than created and that not everything was taken into consideration in some of the early studies.
She’d prefer to see something closer to the Paducah-McCracken County Convention & Expo Center, noting mid-level conventions typically want 300 rooms by the host property, or more than Paducah currently has. It has 123 rooms at the Holiday Inn Paducah Riverfront by the convention center.
“It bothers me that we’re going to build a boutique hotel on that specific property and create mixed-use development and all those things, but we don’t have anything else close to the demand generator, which I would see as the convention and expo center,” she said.
David Guess“I am for the private investment, but I just think we need another hotel down to support the convention center,” Guess said.
Guess said the location wouldn’t have been his No. 1 choice.
He described City Block as a “very valuable” piece of property to Paducah for festivals and other events, but reiterated that he thinks another hotel should be by the convention center, a couple blocks away, because of what’s invested there.
Raynarldo HendersonHenderson said he doesn’t have a problem with the City Block project’s concept, but suggested moving it to another place, instead of the lot.
Henderson noted the timing with COVID-19 and citizen concerns with parking and Barbecue on the River. He stressed that he’s for growth and progress, while also pointing out another location for development: the Sixth Street area.
“There are all kinds of properties there,” he said.
“There are all kinds of places where a hotel could go, plus parking, and at the same time, you would be able to give some new life, have some new energy to that section of town. … It concerns me, and I’m tired of driving through the city of Paducah and going through certain areas of town and I feel as if I have gone through a totally different city. That would be my proposal.”
Robert ShyShy said the concerns from people he’s talked to regarded parking and events downtown. From what he’s read about the City Block project, Shy said there’s still going to be parking there, but obviously fewer spaces.
He also questioned the amount of reimbursement the city would pay Weyland.
“Other than that, the project itself — other than from a funding point of what’s going to cost the city — I’m OK with that space,” he said.
“From what I’ve read is, there’s still going to be space for activities. It’s going to minimally affect Barbecue on the River, so those questions there, based off of what the city’s telling us, I’m OK with it.”
Shy also said he doesn’t think everything should be pushed off until the next commission, as current officials still have months left.
Mike ReedReed said he’s heard favorable and unfavorable remarks about the project, but he doesn’t know enough about the particulars and would like to. He thinks it’s a great thing to have a developer willing to spend $21 million downtown, but acknowledged “misgivings” people have.
“I don’t really think the folks (Weyland Ventures) are quick to run away if we just paused a while and hashed this thing out and come up with a plan that everybody — the great majority of people are happy with and the right location,” Reed said.
“I know some folks would just like to move it down a little closer to the convention center and not give up that lot, main parking area there.”
Reed said he’d favor waiting and putting it on pause until the next commission.
Sandra WilsonWilson, the only incumbent, described Weyland Ventures as a “very successful” private developer.
“For the type of development they have researched and are willing to put their own money in, this is the area they believe would be the most successful to create a destination type location where locals and visitors would enjoy,” she said.
Wilson said the investment, along with a $10.4 million federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant for the riverfront, would provide over $30 million in investment from outside sources. It’d bring new commerce in many ways.
“Coupled with the BUILD grant, that will improve infrastructure and build an excursion pier for the riverboat visitors, this will open many more opportunities for the entire downtown area, from the riverfront and continuing back up Broadway for many blocks,” she added.
Melinda WinchesterWinchester believes it’ll be approved by a 3-2 vote, following Tuesday’s meeting. She called Weyland Ventures a “reputable” company, suggesting it perhaps could help with structured parking at 3rd and Kentucky, infill on the Kresge lot and revitalizing Columbia Theatre.
“I support development in our downtown, but I am disappointed that the our leaders did not recognize the inadequacies in the parking assessment,” Winchester said. “This is vital piece of information that was needed, so an informed decision could be made. I am also concerned with the unknown financial obligation in a time of uncertainty with COVID.”
Winchester said she agrees with Commissioner Gerald Watkins that additional protections need to be in the agreement to protect city interests, such as a reversion clause where, if the project isn’t substantially complete in 18 months, the property transfers back to the city.
“The reality is Weyland Ventures is coming to town and the new mayor and commission will need to work together to ensure this project stays on track and addresses the concerns of our existing businesses and taxpayers,” she added.