Memo-03-13-2018-Item-12

March 13, 2018

MEMO TO:        Mayor Barber and Board of Commissioners

FROM:             Frank A. Rush, Jr., Town Manager

SUBJECT:       Islander Drive Redevelopment - (Summary & Suggested Motions)

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to review 5 proposals received in response to the Town’s recent Request for Proposals – Islander Drive Redevelopment at the March 13 meeting. 

Ideally, the Board will identify its preferred proposal for exclusive negotiations at the March 13 meeting, and then direct the Town Manager and Town Attorney to negotiate and draft a formal “development agreement” with the selected developer for public hearing and formal Board consideration at the April 10 meeting (or a later meeting, as necessary or desired).  Following approval of the formal “development agreement”, the Town would formally convey the 1.85 acre tract of land at 203 Islander Drive to the selected developer later this spring or summer. 

As outlined below, the Town expects to realize a significant profit from the sale of this 1.85 acre tract of land, and, if the Board concurs with my recommendation below, these funds would be re-invested in significant improvements to the Town’s Western Ocean Regional Access and Islander Drive streetscape.  These improvements would seek to enhance the visitor experience, improve the aesthetics and function of Islander Drive, and (hopefully) promote additional quality development in this area of Emerald Isle in the future.  As you know, this area has been underutilized for several years, and since 2004 the Town’s land use plans have included a goal to revitalize this area.  The actions under consideration by the Board at the March 13 meeting will likely result in further progress toward the achievement of the Town’s ultimate goals for this area.   

Background / History

As you know, the former go-kart track / bumper boat (203 Islander Drive) and batting cage (207-211 Islander Drive) properties were abandoned for several years, and resulted in an unattractive appearance along Islander Drive that was not consistent with the quality of other development throughout Emerald Isle.  The Town has been working since 2004 to improve this area of Emerald Isle, and the Town’s 2004 and 2017 land use plans specifically promote quality redevelopment of this area (“Village West”) of Emerald Isle. 

In recent years, there have been several positive developments in this area, including:

  • the Town’s continued development of additional amenities and aesthetic improvements at the Western Ocean Regional Access,
  • the significant renovation and expansion of The Islander Hotel,
  • the construction of the new Transportation Impact headquarters and Caribsea restaurant,
  • continued improvements to the Salty Pirate Water Park, and
  • the (in-progress) construction of the new Lighthouse Inn and Suites boutique hotel.

These initiatives have resulted in incremental improvement in this area over the past decade+, however, the abandoned go-kart track / bumper boat and batting cage properties continued to be an eyesore that detracted from this area of Emerald Isle.  Over the years, the Town worked cooperatively with the owner of these properties to promote the cleanup of these properties (vegetation cutting, removal of debris), however, the Town lacked legal standing to compel the removal of the significant concrete features on the site. 

In early 2016, in response to increasing concerns about the appearance of this area, the Town convened a group of nearby property owners (The Islander Hotel, Holiday TravLPark, and Transportation Impact) to explore the possibility of one of more entities acquiring these properties - solely for the purpose of cleaning up this area of Emerald Isle and promoting quality redevelopment in the future.  At the time, the property had been listed for sale through a local real estate agent, and the asking price was $1.4 million, which was considered excessive.  (The go-kart track / bumper boat property is approximately 1.85 acres, and the batting cage property is approximately 0.7 acres.  The combined land area is approximately 2.55 acres.)  At that time, due primarily to the excessive asking price, the Town was unable to facilitate a land purchase by or with these parties.

At about the same time, the Town was aware of economic development grant funding available through Carteret County, and began to formulate a strategy to potentially secure grant funds for the acquisition, clean-up, and eventual redevelopment of this land.  Subsequent to the meeting with nearby property owners, the Town made a verbal offer to acquire the go-kart track / bumper boat, batting cage, and also the Artisan Granite and Marble property (an additional 1.5 acres across Islander Drive) for $1.4 million.  This offer was contemplated by the owners, but was rejected, at least in part, due to Artisan’s desire to continue to grow their business in Emerald Isle at that location. 

Throughout the remainder of 2016 and into early 2017, the Town continued to pursue the acquisition of this property either by the Town itself, or by a private entity interested in cleaning up and redeveloping the property.  The Town made additional verbal and formal offers for the go-kart track / bumper boat and batting cage properties (2.55 acres), but these offers were rejected.  The Town remained in contact with the owner of Holiday TravLPark (Watson Family Assets LLC), who had also made verbal and formal offers for the property but had also been rejected.  Watson Family Assets LLC was primarily interested in the batting cage property (0.7 acres), and was interested in the Town taking ownership of the go-kart track / bumper boat property (1.85 acres).  

After several attempts, Watson Family Assets LLC was able to execute a purchase contract for the entire 2.55 acres in February 2017, with a total purchase price of $875,000.  At that time, the Town executed a purchase contract with Watson Family Assets LLC for the go-kart track / bumper boat property (1.85 acres), and agreed to pay the same per-square-foot price included in the contract between Watson Family Assets LLC and the previous owners.  The Emerald Isle Board of Commissioners approved the purchase contract in March 2017, along with a request for $450,000 of economic development grant funding from Carteret County, and also noted its interest in pursuing the recruitment of a private entity to construct a “meeting and events center” in this area (which had been identified as a future goal in the Town’s 2017 Comprehensive Land Use Plan adopted earlier in 2017).  The Carteret County Board of Commissioners approved the award of $450,000 of economic development grant funding in May 2017, and the Town closed on the purchase of the go-kart track / bumper boat property (1.85 acres) in June 2017.  The Town’s purchase price was $629,647, the same per-square-foot price included in the original Watson Family Assets LLC contract. 

The Town solicited informal bids for the removal of all concrete and debris in May, and this work was completed in July 2017.  The Town’s total cost for this work was $47,623.  The property was then seeded, and has remained as a vacant lot since July 2017.  In and of itself, the removal of all concrete and debris from the site is a significant accomplishment, and has significantly enhanced the appearance of this area.  Accounting for other minor land acquisition expenses (surveys, environmental studies, etc.), the Town’s total investment in the go-kart track / bumper boat property (1.85 acres) is $688,944.  Carteret County provided $450,000 and the Town contributed $250,000, resulting in a total land acquisition / clean-up budget of $700,000.  As of March 13, there is currently a balance of $11,056 of unspent funds in this project account.

As you know, concerns were expressed by the public during summer 2017 about the potential inclusion of a portion of the Western Ocean Regional Access for the development of a “meeting and events center”.  Although the Town committed to maintain the function of the Western Ocean Regional Access, enhance the public facilities available,  and ultimately create additional beach parking, public concerns persisted, and in October 2017 the Board of Commissioners directed the Town Manager to offer the go-kart track / bumper boat property (1.85 acres) for sale. 

Due to the Board’s interest in ensuring compatible future development on the site, and in an effort to provide the Board with the maximum flexibility for the sale of the property, the Town issued a Request for Proposals – Islander Drive Redevelopment in December 2017.  Proposals were due by February 16, 2018, and the Town received a total of 6 proposals from 3 interested parties.  One of the proposals has since been withdrawn because it did not include a required minimum purchase price of $700,000, resulting in a total of 5 proposals from 2 interested parties:  4 proposals from A-Team Enterprises LLC (includes owners of The Islander Hotel) and 1 proposal from Transportation Impact. 

Review of Proposals

I have attached a copy of the Request for Proposals – Islander Drive Redevelopment for your review, and the RFP includes a thorough description of the property, applicable development regulations, and instructions for respondents. 

As you know, the property has been zoned Village West for several years, and this zoning district allows residential, commercial, and mixed use structures.  The zoning ordinance limits the height of any new buildings to a maximum 40 ft. mean roof height, with the potential for up to 50 ft. with the issuance of a special use permit.  It is anticipated that all 5 proposals would be consistent with the Town’s current zoning regulations, and would not exceed 40 ft. mean roof height, as outlined in the Town’s current regulations.  (This requirement could be included in a formal “development agreement” if desired by the Board). 

I have attached copies of each proposal for the Board’s and the public’s review, along with subsequent information that was specifically requested by the Town after the proposals were received on February 16.  I believe all 5 proposals are quality proposals that will provide significant benefits for the people of Emerald Isle.  In short, I don’t believe the Board can make a bad choice, as all 5 are a “home run” for our community.

The 5 proposals are summarized as follows:

(See All 4 A-Team Enterprises Proposals) (See A-Team Enterprises Follow-Up)

  • A-Team Enterprises LLC – Option 1
  • deed existing Islander conference center (6,800 sq. ft. of space) to Town of Emerald Isle, plus $350,000 in exchange for 203 Islander Drive
  • construct new entrance to existing Islander conference center that is oriented toward Western Ocean Regional Access property
  • $8 million investment in 30, 3-story condominium units with retail units on ground floor, with construction expected to begin in January 2019
  • construction of new boardwalk feature along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive
  • construction of approximately 43 on-street public parking spaces along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive to serve planned retail units and the general public
  • project includes separate acquisition of adjacent McLean property (modular office building), resulting in total of 2.62 acres to be developed

 

  • A-Team Enterprises LLC – Option 2
    • expand existing Islander conference center by additional 3,000 sq. ft. (total of 9,800 sq. ft. of space) and deed to Town of Emerald Isle in exchange for 203 Islander Drive
    • construct new entrance to existing Islander conference center that extends to Western Ocean Regional Access property
    • $8 million investment in 30, 3-story condominium units with retail units on ground floor, with construction expected to begin in January 2019
    • construction of new boardwalk feature along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive
    • construction of approximately 43 on-street public parking spaces along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive to serve planned retail units and the general public
    • project includes separate acquisition of adjacent McLean property (modular office building), resulting in total of 2.62 acres to be developed

 

  • A-Team Enterprises LLC – Option 3a
  • $800,000 purchase price
  • $8 million investment in 30, 3-story condominium units with retail units on ground floor, with construction expected to begin in January 2019
  • construction of new boardwalk feature along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive
  • construction of approximately 43 on-street public parking spaces along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive to serve planned retail units and the general public
  • project includes separate acquisition of adjacent McLean property (modular office building), resulting in total of 2.62 acres to be developed

 

  • A-Team Enterprises LLC – Option 3b
    • $700,000 purchase price, plus additional $100,000 investment by A-Team in Islander Drive streetscape improvements determined by the Town
    • $8 million investment in 30, 3-story condominium units with retail units on ground floor, with construction expected to begin in January 2019
    • construction of new boardwalk feature along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive
    • construction of approximately 43 on-street public parking spaces along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive to serve planned retail units and the general public
    • project includes separate acquisition of adjacent McLean property (modular office building), resulting in total of 2.62 acres to be developed

 

(See Transportation Impact Proposal)    (See Transportation Impact Follow-Up)

  • Transportation Impact
  • $850,000 purchase price
  • allows Town use of the property for 36 months or until future development plans proceed
  • future plans to construct additional office space (11,000 sq. ft.+/-) and 3 – 5 condominium units (5,000 sq. ft. +/-) for clients and guests
  • planned 16,000 sq. ft. building, with total investment of up to $6 million
  • anticipated continued growth of the firm, with additional employment opportunities for area residents in the future.

Identification of Preferred Proposal for Exclusive Negotiations / Pathway Forward

As noted earlier, I believe all 5 proposals are a “home run” for Emerald Isle, and the Board is fortunate to have nothing but good choices.  After considering:

  • the Board’s previously stated goals for the Islander Drive area,
  • public input received over the past year,
  • the Town’s interlocal agreement with Carteret County,
  • recent informal discussions with each of the Board members,
  • the Town’s ultimate goals to enhance the visitor experience, improve the aesthetics and function of Islander Drive, and (hopefully) promote additional quality development in this area of Emerald Isle in the future, and
  • the unique opportunity presented by 2 of the 5 proposals to convert a “home run” into a “grand slam” for all parties concerned,

I am recommending that the Board narrow its identification of the preferred proposal, for exclusive negotiations, to the following 2 proposals:

  • A-Team Enterprises LLC – Option 3a
  • $800,000 purchase price
  • $8 million investment in 30, 3-story condominium units with retail units on ground floor, with construction expected to begin in January 2019
  • construction of new boardwalk feature along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive
  • construction of approximately 43 on-street public parking spaces along Louise Avenue and Islander Drive to serve planned retail units and the general public
  • project includes separate acquisition of adjacent McLean property (modular office building), resulting in total of 2.62 acres to be developed

OR

  • Transportation Impact
  • $850,000 purchase price
  • allows Town use of the property for 36 months or until future development plans proceed
  • future plans to construct additional office space (11,000 sq. ft.+/-) and 3 – 5 condominium units (5,000 sq. ft. +/-) for clients and guests
  • planned 16,000 sq. ft. building, with total investment of up to $6 million
  • anticipated continued growth of the firm, with additional employment opportunities for area residents in the future.

Both proposals include quality new development, depending on the Board’s preferred type of development (residential / retail  vs.  office / residential) on this site.  I have high confidence that both proposals will be constructed in a quality manner, and will ultimately be wonderful additions to Emerald Isle.  The plan is more firm and the timeline for construction is more immediate with the A-Team Enterprises LLC proposal.

There are significant benefits for our community with each of these 2 proposals, in terms of quality new development, significant investment, additional economic activity, a more vibrant Islander Drive area, and additional property tax revenues for both Carteret County and the Town.  Obviously, each of the 2 proposals will generate a significant profit for the Town, and if the Board concurs, the re-investment of these funds in significant improvements to the Town’s Western Ocean Regional Access and Islander Drive streetscape will only result in additional benefits for our community. 

As a result of the County contributing $450,000 of economic development grant funding for the land acquisition, the property is jointly owned by the Town and Carteret County.  The interlocal agreement executed by the Town and the County is attached, and includes provisions for the reimbursement of the $450,000 if the Town sells the property to a third party, with the County entitled to 64.3% of any profits.  I recommend that the Town formally request that the County amend this interlocal agreement and allow the Town to retain all profits --- if the Town agrees to re-invest all profits in improvements to the Western Ocean Regional Access and Islander Drive streetscape.  Recent informal conversations with County officials about this potential amendment have been encouraging, and I remain hopeful that the County will ultimately approve such an amendment in the coming weeks.

If the Emerald Isle Board of Commissioners selects A-Team Enterprises LLC – Option 3a, with a total purchase price of $800,000, and the County allows the Town to retain all profits, the Town would have the following funds available to re-invest in improvements to the Western Ocean Regional Access and the overall Islander Drive streetscape:

            $   11,056          remaining balance in project account

            $ 100,000          profit from sale of land

            $ 100,000          State grant for economic revitalization of Islander Drive area

   $   50,000          Town equity after reimbursing previous Town expense

            $ 261,056          TOTAL AVAILABLE FOR RE-INVESTMENT.

If the County does not allow the Town to retain all profits, the Town would be required to remit $64,300 to the County, thus reducing the total available for re-investment to $196,756, which is still significant.

If the Emerald Isle Board of Commissioners selects Transportation Impact, with a total purchase price of $850,000, and the County allows the Town to retain all profits, the Town would have the following funds available to re-invest in improvements to the Western Ocean Regional Access and the Islander Drive streetscape:

            $   11,056          remaining balance in project account

            $ 150,000          profit from sale of land

            $ 100,000          State grant for economic revitalization of Islander Drive area

   $   50,000          Town equity after reimbursing previous Town expense

            $ 311,056          TOTAL AVAILABLE FOR RE-INVESTMENT.

With the Transportation Impact proposal, if the County does not allow the Town to retain all profits, the Town would be required to remit $96,450 to the County, thus reducing the total available for re-investment to $214,606, which is still significant, and would result in significant public benefits.

As discussed previously, the Board has considerable latitude in making its decision on which proposal to approve for exclusive negotiations.  Factors the Board may wish to consider (in no particular order) include the following:

  • the type of development proposed, and its compatibility with existing development in this area,
  • the potential for this development to enhance this area of Emerald Isle and promote additional quality redevelopment in the future,
  • consistency with the Town’s previously stated goals and land use plans,
  • consistency with the RFP process,
  • the overall economic impact and tax revenue associated with the proposal,
  • the sale price,
  • the potential additional public improvements included in the proposal and/or to be constructed by the Town with the profits,
  • the timeline for construction, and
  • other factors deemed important to the Board.

Regardless of which proposal is selected by the Board, the Town intends to utilize the legal process outlined in NCGS 158-7.1 (d) to consummate the sale of the property, ideally later this spring or summer.  NCGS 158-7.1 (d) reads as follows:

            NCGS 158-7.1 (d)

(d) Interests in Real Property. – A county or city may lease or convey interests in real property held or acquired pursuant to subsection (b) of this section in accordance with the procedures of this subsection. A county or city may convey or lease interests in property by private negotiation and may subject the property to such covenants, conditions, and restrictions as the county or city deems to be in the public interest or necessary to carry out the purposes of this section.  Any such conveyance or lease must be approved by the county or city governing body, after a public hearing.  The county or city shall publish notice of the public hearing at least 10 days before the hearing is held; the notice shall describe the interest to be conveyed or leased, the value of the interest, the proposed consideration for the conveyance or lease, and the governing body's intention to approve the conveyance or lease.  Before such an interest may be conveyed, the county or city governing body shall determine the probable average hourly wage to be paid to workers by the business to be located at the property to be conveyed and the fair market value of the interest, subject to whatever covenants, conditions, and restrictions the county or city proposes to subject it to.  The consideration for the conveyance may not be less than the value so determined.

Essentially, this statute will require the following for the Town to complete the sale of this property:

  • the negotiation and drafting of a formal “development agreement” between the Town and selected developer that outlines the sale price, the required due diligence fee and/or earnest money deposit, the planned development, the timeline for construction, any associated public improvements, the anticipated economic benefits and tax revenues, and desired performance guarantees and/or a reverter clause (in the event of non-performance),
  • the completion of an updated appraisal to insure that the Town is receiving fair market value,
  • a determination of the average hourly wage paid to workers by the business(es) included in the project, and
  • a formal public hearing regarding the “development agreement” and proposed sale.

This property was acquired following the procedures outlined in NCGS 158-7.1 (a,b,c) in March 2017, and this statute appears to provide the Board with maximum flexibility in making a decision to proceed with the sale of the property.  If, however, the Board would like to consider an alternate sale method, I am happy to recommend alternative methods for the Board’s consideration.  The Board should note, however, that these alternative methods would likely not allow the Town to control the specific development that occurs on the property in the future.

If the Board identifies the preferred proposal for exclusive negotiations at the March 13 meeting, I anticipate working with the Town Attorney and the selected developer to negotiate and draft the appropriate “development agreement” in the coming weeks.  I would also commission the new property value appraisal, and would expect to have both items completed by the end of March.  A public hearing would be scheduled for the Board’s April 10 meeting, after which the Board could make a final decision on the sale.  Closing would occur as soon as possible thereafter, likely later this spring or summer. 

If it takes longer to negotiate and draft the “development agreement” and/or the appraisal, or if the Board needs more time to decide, the public hearing and final Board decision would be scheduled for the May 8 meeting (or later if desired).

Proposed Amendment to Interlocal Agreement with Carteret County for Economic Development Funding

As noted above, a copy of the interlocal agreement executed by the Town and the County is attached, and includes provisions for the reimbursement of the $450,000 if the Town sells the property to a third party, with the County entitled to 64.3% of any profits. 

As noted above, I recommend that the Town formally request that the County amend this interlocal agreement and allow the Town to retain all profits --- if the Town agrees to re-invest all profits in improvements to the Western Ocean Regional Access and Islander Drive streetscape.  Recent informal conversations with County officials about this potential amendment have been encouraging, and I expect the County Commissioners to formally consider this request as early as its March 19 meeting. 

Because the County would be reimbursed its full initial investment ($450,000), because the Town would commit to re-invest the profits in improvements that will benefit Emerald Isle and all of Carteret County, and because the amount of profit realized by the County is relatively small in the context of their budget (either $64,300 or $96,450), I am optimistic that the County Commissioners will approve such an amendment.  As discussed earlier, however, if the County does not approve the amendment, the Town will still have a significant amount available to invest in beach access and streetscape improvements in this area. 

Potential Public Improvements – Western Ocean Regional Access, Islander Drive Streetscape (Sale Proceeds, Grant Funding)

As noted above, if the Board selects either the A-Team Option 3a or the Transportation Impact proposal, the Town will have approximately $200,000 - $300,000 to invest in public improvements at the Western Ocean Regional Access and in improvements to the Islander Drive streetscape.  The Board would have full latitude to determine the specific improvements to be constructed later this spring or summer, and may wish to consider the following ideas:

  • construction of an improved streetscape along Islander Drive, with additional on-street parking (in addition to those constructed by A-Team, if their proposal is selected), improved lighting, new / additional sidewalk, improved landscaping, and/or other attractive features,
  • reconstruction of the existing walkways and shower facilities at the Western Ocean Regional Access (that connect the parking area with the dune line),
  • bathhouse improvements,
  • additional sand volleyball court(s)
  • a small splash-pad feature,
  • a small pickleball court(s),
  • concert stage improvements, and/or
  • any other desired amenities that will enhance the visitor experience or improve the function and appearance of the WORA.

I would envision Town staff securing accurate price quotes for the various improvements for Board consideration later this summer or fall, with a goal to construct any planned improvements in fall 2018 and/or winter 2019 prior to the 2019 tourism season.

Conclusion

As you know, the Town’s overall goal has always been (and remains) the improvement of the Islander Drive area to create a more attractive and vibrant center of activity in Emerald Isle – regardless of the type or form of any future development in this area. 

The Town has consistently indicated that just about any quality new development that is consistent with the Town’s current development regulations would be welcome in the Islander Drive area.  Unfortunately, for many years, this area has been underutilized and has not been consistent with the aesthetic quality standards throughout Emerald Isle.  The previously considered “meeting and events center” concept was primarily a “means to this end” that was eligible for significant grant funding, but was not the ultimate goal. 

I am pleased that the Town was able to secure the property, remove the concrete and debris from the property, and restore this land to a grassy, vacant field.  As noted numerous times during previous discussion of this issue, even if nothing else happens on this site in the future it still represents a significant improvement for Emerald Isle. 

Fortunately, however, the final outcome is likely to be very positive for our community.  Regardless of which proposal the Board selects, the end result will likely include the following:

  • the elimination of a long-term eyesore (already achieved),
  • the construction of attractive new building(s) in this area, with low building heights and consistent with existing quality development in Emerald Isle,
  • vibrant activity in this area of Emerald Isle,
  • additional property tax revenues for the County and the Town, and  
  • significant public improvements at the Western Ocean Regional Access and along Islander Drive, at essentially no or very minimal cost to the Town’s taxpayers.

Overall, a great end result for Emerald Isle no matter the final outcome. 

I look forward to discussing this issue with the Board at the March 13 meeting.