Council still holds out hope for big high-rise project

The city council, on Aug. 25, unanimously rejected a proposal by Canadian developer United Properties Ltd. to set aside the much-anticipated Symphony high-rise project and instead construct a performing arts and cultural center on the former AMC Theatre site.

In 2008, United asked the council for an additional year to anchor finances for the Symphony project. The tough economy was blamed for the delay. The developer agreed to pay the city $150,000, plus interest, to cover escrow costs and hold the land until construction began or the current contract expires, Sept. 11. Construction has yet to start.

A letter, dated Aug. 14, to the council from United Properties introduced the new public-private partnership proposal. United’s request: give the developer until Feb. 11 and it will redesign its concept for the property, replacing Symphony with a PACC, open space and possibly associated development. The council faced a two-pronged decision: whether to extend United Properties’ contract and whether to scrap the Symphony project in favor of a performance hall at the site, 31600 20th Ave. S.

“I beleive (sic) our company understands the site conditions more than any other development company and to start fresh with a new company will involve a learning curve that will delay the project. I hope council will allow us the opertunity (sic) to continue to work with the city to complete the project development,” Setton wrote in response to economic development director Patrick’s Doherty’s Aug. 25 e-mail asking Setton if he had additional materials to present to the city council for Tuesday’s discussion.

The City has already garnered legislative money toward preliminary work on a PACC and the project could qualify for other sources of funding.

The council has not committed to erecting the center on the AMC site if Symphony were to fall through. Setton did not return phone calls for comment on his company’s proposal.

“This letter is premature and ahead of us as a council,” Mayor Jack Dovey said.

Years in the making:

Symphony, a $235 million mixed-use project of four towers containing office, retail and residential space surrounding a one-acre park, has been planned for the site since late 2007. The city council approved selling the 4.1 acres for $6.156 million to the developer under the agreement it would take on the project. Construction of the first phase — a 16-story building — was scheduled to begin summer 2008, with an 18-month timeline. Symphony Park was planned for a late 2009/early 2010 completion date. All four towers, measuring 16, 20, 22 and 24 stories, were expected to be finished by 2014.

Tuesday’s special meeting, announced Aug. 21, was meant to determine the future of the prime real estate. Setton was not in attendance.

Opposing viewpoints:

Setton’s absence and his short e-mail prompted strong words and disagreements among council members Jim Ferrell and Dini Duclos. Ferrell, who originally voted against choosing United Properties as the developer for the site, demonstrated his desire to let the current contract expire.

“If I were Mr. Setton and there (was) $200 million sitting on the table, I’d be here talking to us,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell also appeared irritated with Setton’s multiple spelling errors in his e-mail to Doherty.

“He didn’t even take the time to read the e-mail after he wrote it,” Ferrell said. “This tells me, circumstantially, he’s not interested.”

Duclos countered. Setton could not control the economy and should not be blamed for his struggles in financing the Symphony project, she said.

“I’m sorry Jim, I’m not reading all the sinister things into this,” Duclos said. “I’ve thought (Setton’s) always acted, to me, in good faith.”

A 40-minute mid-meeting executive session was called to discuss the legal ramifications involved in United’s new proposal. The council’s vote followed the confidential session. If United fails to meet its contract agreement, the city will keep the $150,000 and the council will be free to do what it wishes with the property. The council showed an interest in speaking with Setton about future development opportunities, including that of a PACC, after United’s contract expires.

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