Public Market plans in Richland put on hold - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Public Market plans in Richland put on hold

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RICHLAND, WA - The City of Richland responds in a letter to Adam Brault and the The Crown Group, Inc. on their  plan for a Public Market on 650 George Washington Way.

"Dear Mr. Lambert & Mr. Brault:
Thank you for taking the time to present to Richland City Council on February 23, 2016. Council is pleased with your decision to invest in the City of Richland, and is excited by the energy surrounding your visions for what could be at 650 George Washington Way.

During the presentation, your team presented the City with an opportunity to enter into a public-private partnership with The Crown Group, Inc. for purposes of constructing a public market at 650 George Washington Way. Your “big picture” proposal asks the City to fund a total of $16 million dollars to construct a public market, a parking structure, and an outdoor plaza. Your “short-term” ask is for $60,000 to fund a business plan for your proposed public-private project.

On April 19, 2016, you submitted another letter to City Council requesting a second 120-day extension of the existing contract, reiterating your request for $60,000 to fund a business plan, and seeking to start discussions of a development agreement for 650 George Washington Way that would replace the current Purchase & Sale Agreement. You also requested to know when these issues will come before Council for consideration.
At this time, the City of Richland and The Crown Group, Inc. have a contractual agreement in place for the purchase and sale of 650 George Washington Way. That

contract was entered into in March 2015 with the understanding and expectation by City Council that The Crown Group, Inc. would, upon purchase, construct a mixed use development with a combination of office space, retail and/or residential. At this time, no councilmember has requested that the recent proposition by The Crown Group, Inc. to partner in a public market be placed on a meeting agenda for discussion of possible deviation from the parties’ original contractual agreement.

In guiding the City, Council must be cognizant of the potential legal exposure certain decisions might create. Under the current contractual agreement with The Crown Group, Inc., the City is well-versed in, and comfortable with, its contractual obligations.

Requests to deviate from the course set under the existing contract create opportunity for potential liability, whether it be concerns of unconstitutional gifting under Article VIII, Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution, allegations of misguided approval for a funding strategy that is not supported by state law, or potential contract disputes that erupt over the life of the partnership, costing considerable time and money, and detracting from the City’s core mission to deliver efficient and cost-effective city services. Council’s intent to stay the course under the current Purchase & Sale Agreement is based in part on a healthy respect for what is and what is not allowed under the law.

That being said, Council is concerned with more than just the legal landscape of this issue.

In addition to Council’s present responsibility to ensure efficient, cost-effective delivery of city services to current Richland residents, City leaders must also have an eye toward the future and plan accordingly.

To this end, planning and focus are critical to Richland’s continued success. As you are likely aware, the City has a Strategic Leadership Plan and a Capital Improvement Plan that are designed to focus City priorities, and to allow the City to adequately prepare for major capital projects such as the one you propose. Although your proposed partnership is intriguing, the City is not positioned at this time, in light of the other priorities identified in the City’s Strategic Leadership Plan and Capital Improvement Plan, to divert funding or staff resources to pursue a public market concept at 650 George Washington Way. And for this very same reason, there is no basis to commit $60,000 to fund development of a business plan.

Further, as you are also aware, the City has contracted with consultant Roger Brooks to provide Council with expert advice on the highest and best use for several locations within the City’s Waterfront District. During a publicly held meeting on March 24, 2016, Mr. Brooks advised Council that the highest and best use for 650 George Washington Way is consistent with the development plan that was originally proposed by The Crown Group, Inc. when the Purchase & Sale Agreement for 650 George Washington Way was entered in March, 2015. Mr. Brooks’ professional opinion is that The Crown Group, Inc.’s proposed development is appropriately sized for, and is likely to be successful at, the intended location.

This original development proposal, which includes mixed use development with a combination of office space, retail and/or residential, is aligned with Council’s vision for the Waterfront District, and would be a wonderful and welcomed addition to the ever-growing catalog of all that Richland has to offer.

At the same time, should The Crown Group, Inc. find other public funding sources that make development of a market at 650 George Washington Way feasible as a private development project, Council wishes you every success in pursuing that endeavor.
In order to keep interested citizens appraised of the status of your request for a public-private partnership, the City has determined to issue the attached press release.

Please allow me to thank you again for your well-done presentation, and for extending the opportunity to the City to partner with you on a public market. We look forward to commencement of development at 650 George Washington Way in the near future. Please recall that the mutually-agreed extension of your initial contingency period under the Purchase & Sale Agreement expires on June 25, 2016."

Sincerely, Robert J. Thompson

The Tri-Cities Public Market nonprofit board will be meeting to discuss this matter at their regular meeting on Friday.