It took three years to put together, but only four votes to dismantle.
Seat Pleasant’s $100 million City Center Project has been in the works for three years, but was terminated Nov. 25 after the City Council voted 4 to 1 to eliminate the project. The center was to be built on 15 acres of land and would have featured a 24-hour urgent care clinic, senior housing, a new city hall and energy-efficient architecture that would create at least as much energy as the complex consumes, said Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant.
“It is gone,” Grant said of the planned center. “This was our project. This was our vision.”
The project termination cost Seat Pleasant taxpayers an estimated $200,000 in legal expenses during project planning and about $110,000 for the city’s groundbreaking ceremony, Grant said. He said the termination could put the city at risk for a lawsuit since the city did not operate in good faith with Vienna, Va.-based Kratos Infrastructure. Kratos was the company Seat Pleasant partnered with to develop the property, which would have been located at the John E. Feggans Center at 311 68th Place. The Feggans center was closed in 2009 for needed repairs and was scheduled to be demolished.
The council members who voted against the project were Elenora Simms (Ward 1), who made the motion for cancellation; Aretha Stephenson (Ward 2), who seconded the motion; Johnie Higgs Sr. (At large) and Eugene Kennedy (Ward 5).
Councilman Gerald Raynor (Ward 4) abstained, and Councilman Kelly Porter (At large) was absent from the meeting.
Council president Reveral Yeargin voted against canceling the project.
“I want to see some economic development in my city,” Yeargin said. “We have the power to make change.”
Simms and Stephenson declined to comment on the vote, instead requesting that the city’s administrator, LaTasha Gatling, respond to queries regarding the vote. Higgs also declined comment, and Kennedy and Porter did not return phone calls for comment by press time.
Gatling said in an email to The Gazette that the project’s term sheets, documents that outline a business agreement and are the framework for a final agreement, were a concern to council members.
“[The] majority of the council felt that the city is not in a position to take on a project of a $100 million plus, when the City’s annual budget is $3.7 million,” Gatling said in the email.
Gatling declined to comment further.
Resident Bettye Magee-Price said she was upset about the project’s termination, but was unable to tell the council because its Dec. 9 meeting was canceled due to lack of quorum. Kennedy, Porter, Simms and Stephenson were unable to make the meeting because of a mix of traveling and illness, Yeargin said. Higgs left right after the meeting was canceled.
“Unacceptable is putting it mildly,” Magee-Price said of the project’s cancellation. “This is crazy.”
Grant said the termination of the project was a surprise even though negotiations with Kratos have been on hold since August. Grant said he didn’t know why the negotiations were on hold.
Gatling would not comment on why negotiations were tabled. Kratos Infrastructure also declined comment.
Before the project was canceled, the city was preparing to do a study to see what could have been built at the center and how that would factor into the city’s budget, Grant said. The arrangement with Kratos was such that the city didn’t have to pay anything up front and all costs, besides final lease payments, would be reimbursed, he said.
“Everything looked like it was good to go,” he said.