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Danville City Council voted Tuesday night to appropriate $1.5 million from the general fund to go to the Industrial Development Authority toward the purchase of the White Mill property, which includes eight parcels.
Councilmen voted 7-2 for the motion, with Fred Shanks and Madison Whittle voting against the idea.
Shanks said the IDA has done a good job bringing properties back to useful life, but he is not ready to commit $1.5 million from unreserved fund balance knowing the city has critical needs.
The city has already allocated money for a football stadium renovation at George Washington High School and has a police station in dire need of replacement, Shanks said.
Also, there is no commitment in the property from a developer, Shanks said.
“How can we justify rushing into this?” Shanks said.
The IDA has $36 million in property and the purchase of the White Mill would bring that up to about $40 million, he pointed out.
Other councilmen supported purchase of the building.
Sherman Saunders said he understood Shanks’ concerns but given the momentum in the River District, “it seems like a good time to make an investment.”
“We are seeing progress in Danville,” Saunders said. “I think this investment is a good choice to make. Nothing in life is guaranteed.”
Lee Vogler said he is in favor of private sector investment, but he asked everyone to think about what downtown looked like before IDA investment. The River District’s progress didn’t happen without IDA investment, Vogler said.
“The demonization of the IDA is not warranted,” Vogler said.
Larry Campbell Jr. said downtown was “dark and gray” six years ago. Now money has been invested in the area, and the city is seeing possible development of a river front park.
“We want to make sure we get the right clientele in the building,” Campbell said.
He added that he was thankful for the IDA.
“This will be a major piece of turning this community around,” Campbell said.
The White Mill property is going to become very valuable to develop with a downtown river front park just below it, said Councilman Gary Miller. It’s imperative the city gets control of the property so Danville can control what goes into that property, he said.
Shanks said his feelings about the purchase of the White Mill property are not meant to be disrespectful toward city staff and the IDA.
“I just don’t see the hurry to do this,” Shanks said.
Vice Mayor Alonzo Jones said he was thankful the Economic Development Director Telly Tucker, the IDA and City Council are working to provide answers to citizens about what will be done with the White Mill building.
Whittle said the decision whether to purchase the property needs a little bit more thought.
Mayor John Gilstrap said of the proposal, “Opportunity involves risk. You can’t steal second by keeping your foot on first.”
The purchase agreement calls for a $1.5 million payment the current fiscal year and a second $1.5 million payment next fiscal year.
The city is seeking funding from several sources for the purchase, but until the sources are confirmed, the general fund balance will be used to pay for the purchase.
In another matter, City Council adopted an ordinance providing money for University of Virginia sub-recipient funding in amount of $237,832 to cover three years of spending from March 1 to Feb. 29, 2020.
The money from UVa and the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute will be used to continue investigating child obesity treatment programs on a community level.
The city will support the grant in kind through providing workspace for staff, information and technology needs, use of facilities for programs and implementation of grant and support from the Community Recreation Division director.
Councilmen also voted, following a public hearing, to rezone 407 Holbrook St. from old town residential to transitional office commercial.
The property will be developed into the Williams Community Resource Center, a mixed use development with two residential units on the upper level and two offices, a conference room and an exhibit hall on the lower level.
Construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2018.
John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 791-7987.