The Abilene City Commission had its first five-person vote since March at its regular meeting Monday and on a key issue, that vote was 4-1.
Mayor Tim Shafer, with the unanimous backing of the commission, appointed Angie Casteel to fill the unexpired term vacated by Sharon Petersen. Casteel will serve as a city commissioner until the elected commissioners take office in early January.
The vote stating the intent of the city of Abilene to issue $10 million in industrial revenue bonds in two or more phases for the Garfield senior living project was 4-1 with Commissioner Dee Marshall the dissenting vote.
“I question the affordability,” Marshall said.
The expected rent for the 16 one-bedroom apartments is $2,000 and $2,600 per month for the three two-bedroom apartments.
It was pointed out that the Brown Memorial Foundation is charging $1,650 per month for its new condominiums and that includes all utilities and food except phone and internet.
Included with the IRBs is an exemption of sales tax on materials.
Phase one of the project, projected at $5 million, is the renovation of the former Garfield Elementary School.
Planned for phase two are 24-unit assisted living units and 8 memory care (cognitively impaired) units in the now vacant east side lot.
The city of Abilene only facilitates the bonds. It would not be responsible for repayment in the event the project does not meet expectations, according to City Attorney Aaron Martin.
Abilene attorney Hank Royer questioned why the city would issue bonds to an out-of-town investor.
“You don’t know what might come down the road and to sign a blank check for $5 million sounds a little suspect,” he said.
Royer said in a letter to the commissioners that he worked for the city in economic development for 24 years and has experience in IRBs and their usage.
“This Garfield project is neither industrial, or revenue, for our city. The current titleholder has no connection to our community, plans only to use insignificant local labor and will take all proceeds out of the community,” he wrote. “They have their own construction crew, are using out of area advisors, and will not pay any significant taxes to our community. Why the city would help this interloper, to the detriment of local developers, is not well understood. It is inconceivable to me that they can say that they are going to find 19, over 55 adults, that will pay the $2,200 to $2,600 rents they project,” the letter said.
He said there is not a need in Abilene for 19 more senior housing.
Royer told the commissioners at the meeting that The Garfield LLC is a for profit organization.
“We’ve already given them the land, they have the historic tax credits and now they are trying to get the benefits of an IRB which would be a lower tax rate and no tax on labor and materials. It seems to me they should have to compete with everybody else in this town.”
Commissioner Trevor Witt said the students moved into the Eisenhower Elementary School in 2015 and the Abilene school district looked to find a developer for two years.
“Someone local could have picked that up,” he said. “I am appreciative the Gilmore brothers are coming forward with this opportunity. They are taking care of one of our historical buildings.”
Last week at a study session the commission was told the goal was to keep Garfield’s historic feel.
Asked about local labor and materials, Josh Gilmore said they plan to use as much locally as they can.
Commissioner Chris Ostermann and Marshall both questioned the $10 million while the first phase is $5 million.
“I would think it would be more specific,” Ostermann said.
City Attorney Aaron Martin said the resolution was only a statement of intent. Actual dollars will be voted on later.
Gilmore said they plan to apply for the neighborhood revitalization district program which would exempt property taxes 100 percent for five years and 50 percent for five more for the value of the improvements.
For the second straight meeting, the Abilene City Commission met in executive session with legal council on negotiations related to a development agreement in connection with a potential hotel development.
Back in July 2017 a new Holiday Inn Express was discussed during an Economic Development Commission meeting.
At that meeting hotel owners discussed seeking designation as a Community Improvement District, similar the 24/7 Travel Store and Love’s Travel Stop.
Developers or property owners making a minimum investment of $4 million toward the development of a hotel, or property owners of an existing hotel making a minimum investment of $1.5 million in their hotel property are also eligible to receive a reimbursement of a portion of the transient guest tax receipts.
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.