The City Council shot down mayor Andre Sayegh’s complicated Hinchliffe Stadium renovation project early Wednesday morning.
Sayegh had secured approval for a long-term lease from the Board of Education which owns the historic stadium, but needed the City Council’s approval for the same agreement.
Council members voted 5-4 to reject the agreement. Some complained the mayor did not provide adequate information about the project while others argued it is inferior to the proposed expansion of Center City Mall, a project the mayor hasn’t backed.
“When asked for information, I didn’t get it,” said council president Maritza Davila. She was surprised when the developers – Baye Adofo-Wilson and Joseph Portelli of RPM Development Group — said the project includes 65 units of low-income housing, affordable housing that will further concentrate poverty in an already impoverished area.
Adofo-Wilson has provided different unit numbers at different meetings. Last month, the school board was given a presentation in which he said, the project will have 80 apartments, restaurant, 300-space parking deck, and gallery space for Negro League history.
The project will cost $70 million. $40 million in state tax credits will be used to fund the project. The low-income housing element will allow the developers to tap other government funding sources.
“You’re asking me to blindly vote on something,” remarked Shahin Khalique, 2nd Ward councilman. Except, last week, the council president told her colleagues to narrowly focus on the lease agreement without discussing the details of the proposed restoration of the stadium.
“We will be back with a full-blown presentation with everything that we have, numbers and everything,” said business administrator Vaughn McKoy. He told the council all the information will be provided to them before final adoption of the lease ordinance in late June.
Davila said she asked the administration to provide all the details before hand, but was told the city is “working on it.”
Khalique said the project is too “tied” to the lease agreement and requires a discussion. He also pointed out the lease gives the developers until Dec. 31, 2019 to obtain financing for the project. The tax credit deadline for the project is Jul. 1, 2019.
“What happens by Dec. 2019 if the developer can’t get funding? What happens to the tax credits?” asked Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman.
“If the developer doesn’t get financing this all goes away,” said McKoy.
Some council members wanted to know how much the developers will be contributing to the project.
“How much is the developer actually putting in? How much is their contribution?” asked Flavio Rivera, councilman at-large.
Adofo-Wilson said state tax credit rules require the developers to put in 20-percent. He wouldn’t say how much he and his co-developer will contribute to the project, a question he has dodged for weeks.
The approved lease gives him site control, said Adofo-Wilson, which will allow him to secure funding. It’s not a “bait and switch” project,” he told the council.
“Why can’t we get that benefit to see something before signing a lease?” asked Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman. He questioned the process the mayor used to identify tax credit projects. Sayegh did not use a request for proposal (RFP) process, but his economic development director, Michael Powell, sent letters to interested developers.
“We didn’t have time and we didn’t have to,” said the business administrator in responding to Velez’s remark about the lack of a RFP process.
McKoy urged the council to “take the politics out” of the project. His remarked incensed Jackson, who blasted the business administrator and the mayor, who was not present at the post-midnight meeting.
“This mayor needs to stop playing politics and go ahead and put on table an opportunity for Center City to move forward,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. He said the Center City Mall expansion will produce 400 jobs. Hinchliffe Stadium restoration will create 170 jobs, said Adofo-Wilson. “The stadium is a great project. It has great nostalgic value, but it’s not going to change the bottom line in the city, it’s not going to increase ratable, it’s not going to reduce taxes.”
Jackson said the Center City Mall expansion project is “shovel ready.” McKoy replied the mall is trying to building on Paterson Parking Authority lots and lacks site control.
“It doesn’t have to be either or,” said the business administrator. There’s $130 million in tax credits. There are six projects, he said. $30 million of those credits has been already assigned to a parking garage on Ward Street.
Jackson wanted the mayor to commit to providing a letter of support for the Center City Mall expansion.
Jackson, Khalique, Rivera, Velez, and Davila voted against the lease agreement while Cotton, William McKoy, Lilisa Mimms, and Al Abdelaziz voted in favor.
Sayegh could not immediately be reached for comments on Wednesday morning.
The council’s rejection creates a pressing problem for the mayor. The tax credit application for the stadium project has to be submitted in less than three weeks.