There’s reason to be excited about the prospective development of the former Argyle Apartments building site and surrounding properties on South Main and Hardin streets in Findlay.
If developer Tim Youngpeter’s plan comes to fruition, and we hope it does, it will make downtown even more attractive and vibrant than it has already become in recent years.
But a brief pause appears in order to ensure the interests of the city and taxpayers are addressed and protected.
A first step of the proposed $31 million project involves the developer acquiring a city-owned parking lot, west of the Argyle property.
While council seems committed to selling or leasing the property, there are questions that need to be answered before council signs off. To his credit, Councilman Jeff Wobser asked several of them at last Tuesday’s council meeting.
Even though council gave a proposed agreement a first reading, Wobser suggested the legislation may be premature, since there are still questions about the parking lot sale and project plans.
The Blanchard Valley Port Authority has offered to buy the parking lot from the city so it can be sold to Youngpeter. The transfer would bypass the usual process of selling the property to the highest bidder at public auction.
The proposal calls for a purchase price of $130,000, even though there’s been no agreement, among council members, on price. There are also questions about the final ownership of the parking lot, if for some reason the project isn’t completed.
There are also questions about the impact of the deal on city taxes, and confusion about parking. While some parking would be produced by the development, the result could be a net reduction of public parking spaces downtown.
The effect of the construction itself has also raised some concerns. Once it begins, it would take about two years, and will occur in a particularly busy section of downtown.
In related matters, Wobser has asked the city to hire an “unbiased third party” to draft the final agreement, instead of the city law director, and for each member of council and all city administrators to sign an affidavit attesting that they have no vested interest in the project.
Those are both reasonable requests since a public parking lot is being sold for a private development.
A meeting at 6 p.m. today in City Council chambers with downtown business owners and residents who may be affected by the project could bring additional questions and concerns, but is a good step for council to take. It will foster transparency.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. A May 31 deadline to finalize the parking lot deal has been set. That’s just 17 days away, but may still be possible. However, City Council must not rush to approve legislation until it has all the answers it needs to protect the public interests.