The Westwood City Council on Thursday approved changes to the city’s Woodside Village agreement that will provide developer Blair Tanner with access to $6 million more in public financing opportunities and allow him to take possession of city-owned land that will house the southern phase of the development sooner than expected.
Tanner and a negotiating team for the city had been in discussions about the changes since last December, when the developer approached Westwood with concerns about the increase in the project cost.
When the plan was initially presented to the city back in 2011, Tanner estimated the project — which is turning an aging swath of property at 47th Street and Rainbow Blvd. into a mixed-use development featuring high-end retail, dining and apartments – would cost $61 million. On Thursday, Tanner’s team told city officials that as the economy turned around following the Great Recession, market forces pushed them to upgrade the scope of finishes on the project, a key driver that increased total costs up to an estimated $110 million.
Dozens of Westwood residents packed the council chambers Thursday for a public forum on the request, with many voicing objections to the idea of increasing the amount of public financing incentives available to Tanner for the project. Originally, the council had approved $22 million in public financing through a Community Improvement District and Tax Increment Financing. With the total cost of the project coming in more than $40 million above the original estimates, Tanner had initially requested that cap be lifted to $35 million. The city’s negotiating team said they believed $28 million was a fair compromise, and noted that even with the increase in public financing, the ratio of public-to-private money used would be moving in the city’s favor with the new agreement. The increased pool of financing will not be available to the developer until they prove expenditures of at least $105 million in project costs.
The council also considered a measure that will allow the city to convey the city-owned plot of land south of the existing development to Tanner before the first phase of development is complete. Tanner indicated that this would allow him to finance both the club renovations and the south phase of the development at the same time. This request drew the objection of several city residents Thursday, who said they didn’t believe the city should be giving the developer the land free of charge in the first place.
A number of residents spoke in favor of the project, as well, with former councilmember Steve Stubbers saying it represented a “tremendous upgrade” from what had been on site before.
The council voted 4-1 on both measures, with Margaret Bowen casting the dissenting vote in both instances. Bowen provided the following statement on her decision to vote against the proposals:
If Mr. Tanner has a sound business plan and his current project is a resounding success, he should not be asking for more tax breaks. I could only support a TIF in a blighted area. If an area is not blighted, I believe TIF is welfare for developers.
A presentation put together by the city giving an overview of the changes requested by Tanner and approved by the council on Thursday is embedded below: