East End property requires ingenuity
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Officials intent on developing a piece of property between Washington and Lee streets on the East End believe creative financing will be necessary to jump start any project there.
The Charleston Urban Renewal Authority purchased a one-acre plot of land at 1315 Washington St. E. for about $700,000 in 2005, Executive Director Jim Edwards said. The site was recently appraised for about $525,000, he said.
The parcel is commonly referred to as the Burger King property.
The property has been mentioned as a possible site for a long-sought East End grocery store. Edwards and Mayor Danny Jones have both fielded calls from developers who were interested in turning the property into a commercial site.
However, no concrete deals have been struck on the property, Edwards said.
Edwards believes the agency should "write down the cost" of the property to make it more desirable to developers who may not have the upfront capital to start a project.
"The practical challenge we have to deal with is that we, as an urban development authority, by law, have to sell or lease the property at the fair market or appraised value," Edwards said.
One way to get around that requirement is that the authority would retain ownership of the property and lease it to a potential developer for a favorable sum, Edwards said.
"We may be able to rent it to somebody at a very favorable rate and then have that rate go up over the years," he said.
Edwards also pointed out that no developers have made a serious attempt to acquire the property at the appraised price.
"If these things could have happened in the private sector at the current prices, then they would have happened," he added.
Mayor Danny Jones also believes the authority needs to look at offering some creative financing options to attract a developer.
"As long as it doesn't interfere or compete with another business that's already in the East End, then we might let the developer have that property for a price that would help them out," Jones said.
Jones added that offering reduced rent to a developer willing to undertake a project on the property would mean the authority could end up owning any new building if the venture would fail.
"I think that might be the best bet," he said.
Councilman Marc Weintraub, an East End Democrat, thinks offering creative financing is an "excellent idea."
"The Urban Renewal Authority should apply that concept to a lot of its property around the city," Weintraub said.
However, Weintraub thinks creative financing is just one piece of the puzzle.
"No matter what, the first thing you have to do is find a developer," he said. "And then you have to find out what type of incentives they would need."
East End Executive Director Ric Cavender believes it is time for the city to consider creative financing for a property that has been vacant for too long.
Jones, Weintraub and Cavender all believe offering the piece of property at a reduced rate is the city's best shot at landing a grocery store for the East End.
"That's the largest piece of land CURA owns on the East End," Cavender said. "It would take a collaborative effort among property owners to get it done on another piece of property."
"But that's not to say that wouldn't happen," he added.
However, Edwards believes the piece of land is too small to support even a small, independently owned grocery store. That's because the property isn't large enough for a store and a parking lot, he said.
"Grocery stores are one of the most parking-intensive uses in a city," Edwards said.