Plans for Northgate condos in doubt http://www.theeagle.com/stories/072907/local_20070729043.php -April Avison Plans to build a $25 million condominium in Northgate are falling apart because College Station officials won't concede to minor changes in the project, developers with Dallas-based The Staubach Co. said Friday. Staubach is the second developer to try to build the facility - once billed as the largest investment in Northgate - at the northwest corner of First Street and Church Avenue near Cafe Eccell. A deal with Atlanta-based Gameday Centers Southeastern fell through earlier this year. The plans with Staubach aren't scrapped, city officials said Friday, explaining that they're trying to work out an agreement that benefits both parties. The matter was discussed during closed session at a College Station City Council meeting Thursday night. Although the issue was posted for a council vote, no action was taken, and City Manager Glenn Brown said after the meeting that he had nothing new to report on the ongoing negotiations. The Staubach Co., founded by former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, originally wanted to take over an economic development agreement that was drafted when the city was negotiating with Gameday Centers. The agreement required that the developer spend $20 million, although about $350,000 would be repaid by the city as an incentive, said Steve Sanders, a vice-president with Staubach. Developers were willing to forego the incentive and invest $25 million if the city would allow the building to be six stories, Sanders said. But College Station officials insisted on at least seven stories, which essentially is the reason for the stall in negotiations, Sanders said. "We would love to go forward with the project," he said. "We simply don't see how we can, given the conditions the city has placed on us. We wanted the design flexibility to do a project of anywhere from six to 15 stories, but the city insisted on seven. The reason this matters is, it forces the entire project to be built under high-rise construction, which is significantly more expensive." Previous plans submitted by the Atlanta-based Gameday company showed a 10-story building with a spa and fitness facility. About 10,000 square feet of retail space was planned for restaurants and gift shops, according to Gameday's original proposal. Furnished condos at the facility, which would be marketed to Texas A&M University graduates, were scheduled to sell for $130,000 to $750,000. The complex's taxable value would be in excess of $40 million, Sanders estimated. Sanders said his client, Texas investment firm EKW Partners, already has contributed "tens of thousands of dollars" planning the project, even though the land is still owned by Southeast Property Management Co. of Kentucky. EKW, which hired Staubach as the project and development manager, has been under contract since April to buy the land but won't close the deal until an agreement can be reached with the city, Sanders said. Sanders said the height of the building is one of two problems in the negotiations. In the 2-acre area where the condo is planned, College Station sold five of the lots and the developer assembled another 10 lots, Sanders said, explaining that when the lots were merged, the land became more valuable. "The city said if we don't go forward with the [economic development agreement], they have the right to buy their lots back," Sanders said. "That never was in dispute; of course they have that right. But then they said they wanted to put a clause in the agreement to buy our 10 lots at appraised value. It's an unusual request because it's not their property and it never was a condition in the original deal with Gameday. "We didn't think the city would have a way to pay fair market value for our lots," he said. "No appraiser is going to value it at what we pay for it. The way they're setting this up, we were guaranteed to lose money if we don't build for whatever reason." To complete the deal, Sanders said, his client eventually agreed to what he called an "onerous" 10-lot buyback provision, asking for the city to concede, in exchange, to a six-story building. But College Station officials wouldn't agree, he said. David Gwin, College Station's economic development director, has been the city's lead negotiator. Gwin said Friday that he was not at liberty to discuss the issue. "From our standpoint, there's nothing to report," he said. "It is our intent to have a condo built at Northgate. We don't have a time frame. I can't comment any more than that." City Manager Brown also declined to discuss the specifics of the negotiations. When asked to respond to some of Sanders' comments, Brown expressed concern about violating the city's policy of conducting economic development negotiations behind closed doors. "I will not talk about the deal points publicly," he said. "I am disappointed that [sanders] has chosen to talk about the negotiations in public. Beyond that, I don't know what to say, other than the city of College Station would very much like to see Gameday happen. It has to be a good deal for the private investor and the citizens of College Station." Brown said dozens of condos were pre-sold by Atlanta-based Gameday. If the project does not proceed, the original developer would be obligated to refund the money, Brown said. The next step for the city, Brown said, is simply to continue negotiating. If an agreement is reached with Staubach, it will be discussed again by the City Council in closed session, he said. Any vote on the matter would be taken in public. Staubach's Sanders said, however, that he ought to have the opportunity to present his plans to the council in a public setting rather than working solely with Gwin and Assistant City Attorney Carla Robinson. A public meeting is customary for a project of this magnitude, he said. "I think the City Council would have loved our project and understood why we needed our changes if we'd gotten a chance to meet with them," Sanders said. "We were told we couldn't have a meeting without a deal. My question for three months has been, how can we get to a deal without a meeting?" Sanders said that if he'd been permitted to meet with the council, it's likely ground already would be broken on the project. The facility could take about 16 months to complete, officials have estimated. "Had they just changed the dates that expired in the original contract, we'd already be working on this," Sanders said. Brown said developers are never allowed to present to the council during a closed session and it's unusual for a concept to be made public before an agreement is signed. "Developers relay comments to staff, and staff relays them to council," he said. "If it's publicly aired out, it could place either the public entity or the private entity at a disadvantage." But despite some trouble with the agreement, the city manager said he doesn't think the project has slipped away just yet. "From the city of College Station's perspective, this deal has not fallen through," he said.