Danville City Council worked through opposition of residents, a lengthy debate among members and two motions to delay and voted Tuesday night to move ahead in trying to build a new police station.
A $17 million facility at 2291 Memorial Drive would be contingent upon city voters’ approving a casino at the former Dan River Inc. property in Schoolfield, because city officials are depending on revenues from a Caesars Virginia casino to help pay for the project.
But one resident wondered aloud before council what would happen if the casino were to shut down within a few years after opening or residents were to vote against it.
“What if the casino comes and they leave within two years time?” Sharon Eldridge Bohannon asked. “How is this new headquarters going to be funded if the casino is not approved for the city of Danville? Will the taxpayers have to pay?”
Council’s votes to approve a lease agreement and — following a second motion — for a purchase and sale agreement between the city and 2291 Schoolfield, LLC, for the $17 million construction of a new police station, were contingent upon voters’ approval of a casino Nov. 3.
City resident Cherie Tamson requested that council table this vote until after the election.
“It doesn’t make sense that this whole thing is contingent upon funds from the casino, and we’re voting on this tonight instead of next month,” Tamson said.
If voters don’t approve the casino, the city will have a problem finding money for the project — and the would mean raising taxes, she said.
City Attorney Clarke Whitfield pointed out that the sales-and-lease agreement states that the agreements will be null and void should the casino referendum fail.
Tamson said she used to work in the former Dan River Inc. executive office building, where the new station would be located.
“I don’t know how you’re going to renovate that into a modern police department” that will last several decades, she said.
The police station project would be a combination of construction of a new building and historic restoration of that original building, which the city then would lease.
A purchase-and-sale agreement would be for a separate lot — where the $8 million worth of new construction would take place — next door. The city would enter into an agreement that calls for the developer to finance the cost of construction.
The developer would use historic tax credits to lower the cost of renovation of the existing building, which would be subdivided from the rest of the property. The plan is to lease that portion for 15 years, with a first right of refusal during the entire term.
The city chose Blair Construction from among three firms that responded to a request for proposals for the project.
Danville resident Greg Anderson questioned whether Blair’s proposal was the best option for the city, considering that others were proposed on different properties. Another firm proposed building at the former Toyota dealership site on U.S. 58 near the Harley-Davidson dealership.
“How do we really know Blair Construction is the best deal if the proposals were on different sites?” Anderson asked council.
Danville City Manager Ken Larking said Blair’s proposal was the most cost-effective. The other two exceeded $25 million, with the one offered at the former Toyota site reaching $28.1 million.
A cost estimate found that a new station could cost as much as $35 million. The city would have had to ask residents to vote on a bond referendum, Larking said.
In addition, Anderson said, the historic tax credits would benefit the developer. So how would they benefit the city because the city would not receive them, he asked.
Should the casino referendum pass, the city would use $5.9 million from an initial $20 million payment from Caesars to pay toward tenant up-fits for the new construction and set aside two years’ totals of lease/purchase payments.
An overall space-needs assessment conducted for the city in 2016 found the Danville Police Department needed an extra 25,302 square feet of space. The department occupies about 13,482 square feet at the Municipal Building on Green Street and Third Avenue and beneath the Ruby B. Archie Public Library.
A second study, in 2018, found the department needs nearly 48,000 square feet to accommodate its 131 sworn personnel and 17 civilian staff. It also listed the Memorial Drive site as a recommended new location. The new location would add about 35,000 square feet toward that goal.
Council member Lee Vogler: “If the referendum doesn’t pass ... we’ll be back to square one.”
Council member Madison Whittle pointed out that “this is the taxpayer’s money we’re spending.”
Also “the tax credits are going to the property owner. That’s not something we’re getting,” Whittle said.
Councilman Madison Whittle said the current project is too much money and that Galileo Magnet High School would be a better location. He offered a motion to table the vote indefinitely.
“Where is the input from the citizens?” Whittle wondered aloud, adding that council should look at another location. “Table it, and let’s start all over again.”
Council member Sam Kushner said he would like to see the vote postponed but to a definite date.
As for the project itself, council member Sherman Saunders expressed concerns as to whether there could be change orders during construction that could increase the costs.
“Do we anticipate that kind of situation with this project?” Saunders said.
Larking said the builder is supposed to construct a building that would meet the city’s needs at the current cost.
Whittle responded a road would need to be built connecting the property to the Schoolfield area. That would be extra, he said.
“That’s not in the cost,” Whittle said.
Vogler disagreed with Whittle’s support of a new police station at Galileo.
“First of all, there’s a school still there,” Vogler said.
Motions to delay
The vote on Whittle’s substitute motion to table the matter indefinitely failed, 6-2, with James Buckner abstaining because of a conflict of interest.
Buckner, a real estate agent, was involved in the sale of the Memorial Drive property to 2291 Schoolfield, LLC.
Vogler made a substitute motion to postpone the vote until the Nov. 5 meeting.
“I don’t have reservations about the location, but I understand the concerns,” Vogler said.
But Saunders disagreed, pointing out that city officials have discussed the need for a new police station “for a long, long time.”
“The more we wait, the price is going to go up, pandemic or not,” Saunders said. “I don’t see why we need to table this when we know we have a very competent city manager and staff. We know everything has been very transparent.”
The current proposal is the best deal, Vice Mayor Gary Miller said.
“I’m just concerned if we put it off for two more weeks or three more weeks is the developer going to look elsewhere,” Miller said.
Larking said the developer, Ed Walker, has been texting and calling for updates on where the city stands on the project.
“I don’t know what the response will be,” Larking said.
But Whittle had a different idea.
“Why don’t we put it on a referendum and let the folks vote on it?” Whittle said.
Vogler’s motion failed, 5-3, with Buckner again abstaining.
The council ended up passing the original motions listed on the agenda, 7-1, with Whittle voting against them and Buckner abstaining.
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