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A spirit that is not afraid

City scraps downtown hotel and parking deck project

The City of Auburn today scrapped plans to partner with a private developer to build a six-story boutique hotel, an urban grocery and redevelop the downtown Municipal Parking Deck.

"Both parties worked diligently and in good faith to reach an agreement but unfortunately were unable to finalize a deal in accordance with the conditions that were agreed to in the term sheet approved by the Auburn City Council on January 5, 2016," a city press release read.

Economic development officials sent a request for proposals in January 2015 to nine Alabama developers. Three proposals for the project were returned, and city officials then selected a proposal by the Birmingham-based developer Blackwater Resources, later dubbed Auburn Ventures, LLC.

Auburn Economic Development Department officials and executives from Blackwater presented the initial plans to the City Council on Jan. 5, 2016.

According to the same press release, there is no current plan to move forward with redeveloping the aging parking deck.

"While there are no further plans in motion at this time regarding the current municipal parking deck and Gay Street Parking lot, the City of Auburn will continue to seek cost-effective and innovative solutions to provide additional downtown parking and foster a vibrant downtown core," the release read.

According to the term sheet approved by the City Council and Blackwater Resources in January, approved groceries would have included a Kroger, Publix, Whole Foods, Sprouts, The Fresh Market or Trader Joe’s.

But throughout the discussion on the new development, citizens showed concern about bringing a grocery store to a downtown Auburn already plagued with parking ailments. Many were concerned the development would not be economically viable.

"My concern is not with the development," said Tim Curry, Auburn resident, at a January Council meeting. "My concern is with the grocery store. You gave them your design and told them you wanted a grocery store. That could be part of the problem that you only had three respond."

The 30,000-square-foot footprint of the planned grocery would have been less than half of a standard Kroger like the one on Glenn Avenue, but still much larger than many urban groceries.

"You can go to New Orleans, Seattle or Vancouver, Canada, and they do not have downtown grocery stores," Curry said. "They have small corner grocery stores and delicatessens, and they have a true urban, adult, 365-days-a-year population."

Office and conference space, as well as 3,700 square feet of additional retail and restaurant space, would have also accompanied a brand new, larger, five-level parking garage touting 730 parking spaces and a 90–130-room boutique hotel.

The new parking garage would have added more than 100 spaces to the total number of public parking spaces now available in the downtown area, and it would have replaced the city's aging parking deck. Officials said the parking deck will need to be replaced within the next decade.

The public-private partnership brokered by city officials would have had the developer pay a $10-per-month rent for the land on which the parking deck would sit. The land under the grocery and hotel would have been deeded to the developer, along with several conditions.

The low rent was intended to incentivize the private developer into footing the bill for the multimillion dollar parking garage, according to Economic Development Director Phillip Dunlap and City Manager Charlie Duggan. The developer, instead of the city, would have financed the new parking garage, paid all maintenance fees and ensured the deck is inspected biannually — saving the city more than $10 million on building a new parking deck.

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