by Jerry Carter
The other day, The Bridge sat down with Montpelier mayor, John Hollar, to talk about how the city is moving forward with the development of the Carr Lot. Below is a transcript of our conversation.
Carter: How does the payment between the developer and the city work?
Hollar: The developer will pay us development fees. We will be partnering with Redstone, and they are going to develop that part of the parcel. We will own the transit center’s first floor, and they will own the floors above that, and they will pay the city some amount.
Carter: Is that a set amount that all bidders knew about going into the proposal process?
Hollar: No, we will be negotiating that. We had some estimates from both developers, but a lot of that is unknown until we know exactly how much space is going to be used and what the use is going to be.
So, for example, Redstone has said that if you build a hotel, you will have more revenue and more that will flow to the city. If it is commercial, office or residential space, that will produce less revenue, and that will be less revenue to the city.
Carter: The Carr Lot is currently used as a parking lot for about 120 state employee cars; when it is converted into a multi-modal transit center, where will those people park?
Hollar: I’m hoping that the state will agree to build a garage. In fact, we are meeting with them tomorrow [April 29]. We have had ongoing discussions with them about it and it is something that I have been pushing for for a number of years.
Carter: Where would the proposed parking garage go?
Hollar: The one that we are thinking about right now is across the street [from the Carr Lot] on Taylor Street behind the People’s Bank building. It is state-owned property, so ultimately it is going to come down to the state’s decision regarding whether they want to do it or not.
Carter: Would the city chip in at all with that?
Hollar: Yes, I think that there is a need in Montpelier and we would support that through the fees that we get through long-term parking permits.
Carter: Did any part of your decision to initially support DEW over Redstone have to do with DEW’s plan to not include a hotel?
Hollar: Well, it was a small part of it. There were a couple of things. One, they [DEW] were further along on the parking issues—they had actually talked to the state and I think had more developed ideas about how to deal with parking. So, their plan involved less parking on the site itself [and] that was attractive to me. The design of the building itself was one that they put a lot of thought and detail into, and I liked the design. I thought it would be a great addition to the community. I have concerns about the hotel proposal, primarily because the Basharas own a piece of property that we need to access in order to build the bike path. The bike path is going to be critical to this whole development, because the bike path enables us to build a new bridge over the North Branch and Winooski to connect to the development on the east side of the North Branch, behind Main Street. Without that bike path segment, we are really just building a transit center and some commercial development and that is it. That was a factor.
Carter: Part of Redstone’s plan is the installation of a national chain hotel. Is that something that you think would fit in with Montpelier, or do you think it is something the people of Montpelier are against?
Hollar: I think it is too early to tell. I don’t think that we would want a hotel branded chain. I think there probably are ways to create affiliations so that a private property might be affiliated with a chain, but have unique style and brand that would be unique to Montpelier. I don’t really know anything about the hotel that is proposed to go on this site. I don’t think we want a prominent chain hotel in downtown Montpelier. I think that is pretty clear. I have concerns about a hotel, as I mentioned. This is going to be a very public process over the next two months, where as a community we will talk about this, and I think hopefully get some idea about what people in the community want.
Carter: Realistically, ground will not be broken on this project until next summer (2015), right?
Hollar: That’s right, next summer.
Carter: Regarding the farmers’ market, in the Redstone plans, the proposed spot is smaller than needed. Is that something that is open to adjusting?
Hollar: Yeah, I mean none of these plans are fixed in stone yet. There is some question about whether there is enough space there for the farmers’ market. What I have asked them [Redstone] to do is to reach out and work with the farmers’ market to make that preliminary decision about whether or not there is space there. If there is, and they [Redstone] are interested, then we should continue to have that conversation about whether we can accommodate the farmers’ market, whether they [farmers’ market] want to be there, whether it works, and what are all of the other uses that could be made on that site. If it doesn’t fit, then we will move on and keep working with them [farmers’ market] to ensure that they have a good place downtown. They [farmers’ market] have my full support to continue to have a viable place to continue to be in downtown Montpelier.
Carter: Does the ability for them to fit in that space depend on the chosen proposed project?
Hollar: Yeah, it all has to fit together, but we have to make sure that we have enough space for whatever use that property is going to have to make it work for the city. We need an adequate transit center, there are conversations with the state to have a visitors’ center there, and you have the commercial development, so this is going to be a pretty big footprint for a building on Taylor Street.
Carter: Do you favor a hotel, or would you rather see another option go into that spot?
Hollar: I’m not a big proponent of another hotel. My primary concern is a practical one. We need the cooperation of the Basharas to move forward with this project, and I am concerned that if we choose to build another hotel, we are very unlikely to get that cooperation and that is going to stall the project. It is a very simple, practical view that I have. I think that if another developer wants to come into town and build a hotel, then power to them. I think it would be a great idea for a hotel, and maybe there is the demand, but I do have some concern about using the city’s resources to create an entity that would directly compete with essentially one business that is right next to it.
by Jerry Carter