The long-discussed $1 billion County Square project has been a saga of many pauses, setbacks and points of contention between city and county leaders – but those days may soon be over. With a deadline looming, the project must proceed on a clear path forward or it could risk dissolving entirely.
Two major developments have taken place in the new year so far.
The first was a Jan. 7 vote by county council to stall any further decisions on the project until the city finalizes zoning specifics related primarily to building height, a delay that could threaten the county’s ability to purchase the property that will host the new county buildings.
The second major development – revealed at a meeting between county leaders, city leaders and neighborhood stakeholders in the early morning of Jan. 10 – are plans for the city and county to significantly increase the amount of funds allocated to affordable housing, from $4 million up to $7 million.
Here’s why both mattered:
The Jan. 7 vote
County Council voted on Jan. 7 to hit the pause button on a $120 million funding package for the County Square project, with no action slated to take place on the county’s side until the city has finalized the zoning elements of the project.
But the city won’t make that final vote until February, which might be cutting it close to a looming deadline on the county’s side, according to the county’s bond attorney Brad Love.
April 1 is the deadline by which the county must close on the $33 million purchase of property on Halton Road near Haywood Mall, on which the proposed new county buildings will be erected. If the county misses that deadline, it would lose the $3.5 million down payment it made on the property and would be forced to enter a long-term lease agreement with the property owners.
“That’s something that would not be beneficial because on top of losing the $3.5 million, lease rates are higher than the bond payments anyway,” Love said. “So it makes no financial sense to not close on the property.”
In order to meet that deadline, the county must finalize the $120 million funding package on or around the start of February, given that it will take about 60 days to get the bonds rated and sold.
The Jan. 10 meeting
Mayor Knox White announced the city and county would work together to invest a combined $7 million in affordable housing on the County Square site.
“That’s the number one issue for us, that this project will be a positive on affordable housing,” White said.
That $7 million would allow the city, with county approval, to purchase five pieces of property on the County Square site for affordable housing.
“We see a path forward with certitude on that,” White said, with Council Chairman Butch Kirven seated beside him. “We’re looking at a major commitment with the county’s cooperation.”
Despite no specific details being released just yet on the properties’ makeup or how the money will be raised, both White and Kirven expressed collaboration and optimism – a good sign for the fate of the project, even as the county’s deadline fast approaches.