"Saucer on South Grand" Developer Gets His Tax Abatement

"Saucer on South Grand" Developer Gets His Tax Abatement
Albert Samaha

Developer Rick Yackey will get the tax abatement he requested to redevelop The Saucer on South Grand. As expected, the Board of Aldermen passed Board Bill #118 today, by a vote of 15 to 9. Given the bill's high profile, most of this debate had already been hashed out over the past few weeks, so the discussion on the floor mainly served to summarize everyone's points and sides:

Alderman Scott Ogilvie, the most outspoken opponent of the bill, urged the board to reject it, on the grounds that Yackey should be held accountable for putting the property on the National Register of Historic Places. He's already gotten $27 million in tax breaks to develop the Council Plaza complex, Oglivie said, so it would be wrong to give him more tax breaks to possibly demolish one of the buildings responsible for saving him that money in the first place.

On the other side, Alderwoman Marlene Davis, the bill's sponsor, and several others argued that Board Bill #118 would neither encourage nor discourage a potential demolition. And that it is not up to the Board to judge whether the building should be demolished. That's why we have the Cultural Resources Office and the Preservation Board, Davis said. The tax abatement simply provides incentive for development -- in a city starving for it.

Interestingly, Aldermen Stephen Conway and Joseph Vaccaro both stated that, while they supported the bill, they would vote "no" because it was their duty to represent the voice of their constituents. Vaccaro said that he had been inundated with letters and emails from Saucer supporters.

So what's next? Mayor Francis Slay will (or, perhaps, won't?) sign the bill into law in 30 days. After that, it's up to Yackey. It's possible that the media attention and public support for the Saucer will draw a potential tenant. But if no one steps forward, as Yackey has maintained, the building will be demolished to make room for a more pedestrian-friendly retail space.

The highly anticipated vote came a bit later in the day than expected, because of a fierce floor debate over how much the city should charge the non-profit health service organization Grace Hill for the purchase of two buildings it's currently leasing. Board Bills #100 and #101, sponsored respectively by Alderwomen April Ford-Griffin and Phyllis Young, would allow Grace Hill to buy the properties for $100,000 each. (Owning the property puts the organization in a better position to receive federal grant money.) The bills had passed committee and were up for perfection.

Alderman Fred Wessels sought to add an amendment to each bill to raise the price to 20 percent of the buildings' appraised value-- $280,000 for the one in Ford-Griffin's bill and $380,000 for the one in Young's bill. Wessels and a few others argued that that the city's comptroller's office did a shoddy job of negotiating with Grace Hill, as evidenced by the fact that both properties were being sold for the same amount, even though they have different appraisal values. Vaccaro added that Grace Hill could afford the price increase-- citing the $3 million in its reserves, plus additional $4 million in assets -- while the city faces fiscal troubles and can use the extra money.

More than one-third of the board spoke up during the debate, and the discourse got heated enough for President Lewis Reed to pound the gavel at one point. Those against the amendment argued that the city's health crisis is dire, and Grace Hill stepped in to provide services to the underprivileged when the city couldn't. They argued that the appraisal value is high because of the millions of dollars the organization has spent to develop it.

Those for Wessels' amendment countered that Grace Hill has been adequately rewarded for that development with a $10-a-year lease. And then those against the amendment countered-back that Grace Hill needs to save all the money it can, given inevitable government cutbacks that will lead to less federal funding.

But Ford-Griffin provided the sharpest denouncement of the amendment, asserting, "Every dollar that we take away from this organization is a dollar taken away from health services for working class people."

Both bills were perfected. The board is now on summer recess and will reconvene in September.

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