The wheels of government are turning slowly toward an agreement on the process for redeveloping the land occupied by the former Frankfort Convention Center and Fountain Place Shops.
On Friday, Frankfort City Manager Cindy Steinhauser told The State Journal that she had presented the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet with a revised draft of the long-promised deal, which was originally announced in October and later slated by local officials for approval in January or February.
An original proposal by the state, which The State Journal reviewed, appeared to presume that a specific type of public-private partnership — a local government P3 specifically outlined in a state statute — would be the ultimate “delivery method” for revamping all 7.6 acres in question. The state devoted large portions of its proposed agreement to meeting the requirements of a local government P3 and promised to provide assistance “navigating through the nuances of the public-private partnership delivery method.” Under such a deal, the currently state-owned land would be handed over to a private developer with instructions on how the land should be used.
In response, a group that included Steinhauser, Mayor Bill May, Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells and both the city and county attorneys set about crafting a new agreement that both Wells and Steinhauser described as “more flexible” and would allow for arrangements other than the local government P3 outlined in Kentucky Revised Statutes 65.028.
When asked about the advantages of such flexibility, urban planning consultant Barry Alberts, whose firm the city hired to craft a master redevelopment plan for downtown Frankfort, warned against setting “the cart before the horse.”
“The way we approach things is we look at what ultimately is the most feasible — what is the most economically viable — outcome of redevelopment of property,” said Alberts, whom Steinhauser tasked with reviewing the sections relating to P3s in the state’s initial proposal.
Alberts also talked of alternatives to the local government P3 outlined in statute, including instances where a city might provide funding or tax increment financing (TIF) support “to make a project go.” Under a TIF arrangement, increased property tax revenue that results from rising property values is typically diverted to support redevelopment for a given period of time.
The agreement that the state initially proposed also called for a series of open public forums and meetings between Jan. 31 and April 30 at which “concerned and interested citizens and other groups can be informed … have their voices heard … and be kept apprised of the progress in implementing this agreement and its stipulations and milestones.” Alberts defended his process for gathering public input, which so far has involved only one large public forum but many smaller group and individual discussions. Another public forum is slated for May.
Joe Sanderson, the governor’s appointee on the Franklin County Planning Commission, has been a vocal critic of the process local leaders have used to gather input and formulate a plan, which he has said should fall under the planning commission’s purview. On Friday, Sanderson described the recent public forum as “smoke and mirrors” and reiterated his criticism of the lack of planning commission involvement.
The state’s original agreement calls for representatives of the planning commission to sit on a “working group” guiding the project at the local level. The current working group consists of May, Wells, Steinhauser, Kentucky Capital Development Corp. President and CEO Terri Bradshaw, Frankfort-Franklin County Tourist and Convention Commission Executive Director Robin Antenucci, City Commissioner Tommy Haynes, County Magistrate Don Sturgeon, Director of Downtown Frankfort Inc. Kelly Everman and property developer Taylor Marshall. Finance and Administration Cabinet spokeswoman Pamela Trautner did not respond to a request for comment.
County Attorney Rick Sparks speculated that the current working group’s initial lack of communication — the group did not adhere to open-meetings protocol until after calls for increased transparency — continues to overshadow its work. While he acknowledged Capital Plaza redevelopment as “the biggest thing in this community,” Sparks described the back-and-forth between the local and state government to work out a deal as routine and not secretive.
That back-and-forth, however, continues to delay the agreement. Under the state’s proposal, a plan would have been submitted to both the state and the local planning commission in May. When asked, Steinhauser acknowledged that the delay exposes local government to the risk that the state may decide to reject its input on the land rather than await consensus.
“Sure, there’s probably always a risk,” Steinhauser said. “But I think the city and the county and the state have an understanding of each other’s goals here and respect that and are working together.”