North Raleigh News

Raleigh’s downtown lot sale could require legislative help

City council members are looking to sell two downtown lots where an earlier development proposal fell through amid the recession.

The site – two parking lots directly across Dawson Street from the Campbell University law school – would have housed a 25-story condo-hotel-retail tower at one of the highest points downtown. But the Reynolds Co. bailed on the project about five years ago when it failed to secure financing.

Raleigh has owned the land since 1998, initially using a 37,000-square-foot building there to house city departments. The building was demolished in 2008 and converted to parking.

Now two developers have approached the city about buying the property, which has an appraised value of $3.08 million. City officials haven’t said what the developers are proposing. The question of whether to sell – and what process to use – goes before the full city council on Tuesday.

At a committee meeting last month, city council members voiced support for a private sale approach, which lets Raleigh pick the developer, the purchase price and the site’s future use.

There’s just one catch: The N.C. General Assembly has to give Raleigh permission to use that method.

“With the current make-up of the General Assembly, this might be easier to achieve than it was in 1980” when the city last conducted a private sale, city attorney Tom McCormick said.

For other similar sales, Raleigh has used an economic development statute, but it’s resulted in complex, lengthy negotiations, which can make it harder for developers to secure financing.

“That’s a tough tool to use, especially when the markets move quickly,” City Manager Ruffin Hall said.

Hall has seen the private sale approach in action in Charlotte, which has long had the legislature’s blessing for the process.

“This type of authority would allow for more private sector business development,” he said.

The full city council is expected to discuss the options on Tuesday. Mayor Nancy McFarlane says she wants to put the issue on Raleigh’s legislative agenda for the next session.

“Having the option of a private sale would be incredibly helpful,” she said. “Hopefully we can find some bipartisan help to get that into the legislature.”