A matter of time… and risk [UPDATED]Published 11:15am Monday, April 16, 2012 Updated 11:25am Monday, April 16, 2012
On April 2, the Fergus Falls City Council rejected a proposal to redevelop the Regional Treatment Center property. However, it didn’t close the door on development plans altogether.
Instead, several council members said they were open to other plans to save the property’s historic Kirkbride building, including the possible plans of the six other developers who had expressed interest in the project but did not submit proposals by the city’s Feb. 1 deadline.
According to many of those developers, they could still be interested, but putting together a proposal could be hard if the city doesn’t give them more time than it did during the previous development round.
“I think time was definitely a factor,” said Grant Carlson, owner of Minneapolis-based real estate developer Blue Limit, one of the six other entities that submitted a letter of interest about the RTC to the city. “Time always seems to be a factor on these things.”
The last time around, developers were first allowed to see the city’s request for proposals on August 1, 2011. Letters of interest were due by Nov. 18, and a proposal was due by Feb. 1. For many developers, that timeline of two and a half to six months just was too short to line everything up for a satisfactory project.
“Anytime that we’re putting our names on something, we want to be proud of what we’re putting our names on,” said Carlson.
“When you’re running a business and working full time and on top of that you’re also doing a potential development project, it took a lot of time,” said Eric Dunn, chairman of independent film company ECTOFi Productions, which also submitted a letter of interest.
Dunn, who had made a tentative deal with would-be developer Atul Wahi to locate an ECTOFi office in the proposed “Global XChange Village,” noted that he understood why Wahi’s initial proposal was short on details in some places.
“In the time frame the city allowed, it was almost impossible to have a full development regiment (submitted),” he said.
Though time was cited as a factor by most of the developers, risk was another significant factor for many, like the New York-based Phoenix Tree Company.
“It takes a lot of money of course to build up that property,” said Phoenix Executive Director David Newman, noting that it’s hard to find investors to take on such a large project in an uncertain economy. “That was a big issue for sure, and I think time was a factor.”
In agreement was developer Mike Brady, who submitted a letter of interest with business partner Tom Gump. Brady said the Great Recession has caused a shift in thinking.
“What we would say is we’ve become wiser; maybe another person would say we’ve become more cautious,” said Brady, adding, “We would have to have some things in place before we would be able to bite off a project like that.”
Many of the developers noted that the city might need to take on a little more risk to get a project done. Some questioned whether the city’s requirement that Wahi provide the city with $5 million up front was reasonable or even possible for many developers.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to do that,” said Fergus Falls developer Craig Gantner, whose plan involved converting the RTC in phases to a residential-based building with some retail on site.
Gantner said a big reason why he didn’t submit a project was because he wasn’t confident the city officials would accept it as legitimate. Gantner said he’s approached the city about RTC redevelopment options before, and “it’s been very hard to get to any level (where) they thought you were serious about anything.”
Gantner and other developers said that it would be helpful for the city to have a dialogue with potential developers about what sort of expectations the city has for the site, allowing them to better shape their proposals.
Other issues cited by some developers included the concern that the RTC parcels purchased over a year ago by Campus Development Group have not been developed, as well as uncertainty of the city’s willingness to be flexible with developer needs.
Still, all of the developers expressed an appreciation for the RTC. Many have been following the development process over the last few months, and several stated that they might at least consider coming back with another proposal if the process opens up again.
“I’m certainly not a pessimist when it comes to the project,” said Newman. “Sometimes challenges take a lot of effort and trying over and over again.”
Global Athlete Village President Stephanie Smith declined to comment.Tags: Regional Treatment Center