Vote on Judge Doyle Square project rescheduled again; questions remain on the proposal and the process

By Madison Alder Rebecca Kemble (editor’s note: this is from Alder Kemble’s blog, written September 14; after public outcry, the special meeting has been rescheduled for Tuesday, September 29) — Making a decision about an investment of over $62 million in public funds should be well informed and thoroughly researched. To that end I  have dedicated a good deal of time during my first four months in office studying and keeping up to date with the city’s negotiations with Bob Dunn and Exact Sciences on the Judge Doyle Square development agreements.

Although I’m not a member of the Board of Estimates, this summer I sat in on many BoE meetings in order to keep up with the latest updates and changes to the proposal.

As a member of the Transit and Parking Commission with fiduciary responsibility for our Parking Utility, I have worked hard to understand the multiple impacts the deal will have on transit, downtown traffic and the financial health of the Parking Utility.

I am also keenly interested in the use of the City’s new jobs-based TIF loan program. I ran for office on a platform of people-centered economic development and believe that investing in the creation of family-supporting jobs and uplifting the quality of already existing jobs will do more to support struggling families and stabilize the City’s tax base over the long-term than the trickle down effects of investments in amenities for visitors and high-rent apartment buildings.

Still questions without answers

On July 7 the Council was asked to approve a preliminary development agreement with JDS, LLC and Exact Sciences that had scant detail on important issues. Several colleagues and I moved to require answers to 10 different questions relating to TIF policy, impacts on parking and evidence of financial guarantees from the developer before approving the preliminary development agreement. That proposal was amended to approve the agreement with a request that those questions be addressed before the August 24 BoE meeting. That motion passed on a 13-7 vote. Some of those questions are still outstanding, in particular a full TIF Gap Analysis with a financial term sheet, and more detailed analysis of the $12 million TIF jobs grant.

The vote on the final development agreement was scheduled for September 1. However, at their August 24 meeting, the BoE recommended referral to the September 15 Council meeting if the following five issues were not settled by September 1:

(1) Language on a Labor Peace Agreement;
(2) Language on the timing and nature of reacquisition by the City of the hotel condominium unit and the future office expansion condominium unit;
(3) Completion of the Real Estate Purchase Agreement;
(4) Removal of the Developer’s right of first refusal on leasing of parking utility spaces; and
(5) More information on the TIF jobs grant and the other questions of the TIF Coordinator

Only (3) and (4) were settled by September 1 so the vote got pushed to the September 15 meeting.

Last week Council President Denise DeMarb announced that due to a late start and packed agenda of the September 15 meeting, she was scheduling a special meeting of the Common Council to take up the JDS issue on September 23. I joined several of my colleagues in objecting to this decision, since four of us will be out of town or otherwise engaged and will not be able to attend.

Twenty percent of the city will not be represented in this very important vote should it be taken on September 23 as it is currently scheduled. Those of us who will be absent represent the entire Northeast section of the city – Districts 12, 17 and 18 – as well as the far Southwest side – District 1.

It is very disappointing and discouraging to have put in so much time and effort to prepare myself for a vote that I will not be able to take, nor will I have the opportunity to persuade or be persuaded by my colleagues on the Common Council in the course of debate. 

Negotiations are ongoing and details about the deal continue to emerge and shift. I will continue to keep up to speed on the latest developments and share them in this blog [] as the vote draws near.