SALISBURY – After two years, plans to revitalize Station 16 downtown have come to a stop, as the Salisbury City Council disapproved an extension of the purchasing process because of faults in the procedure.
This week the City Council faced a decision of whether to grant a 60-day extension to Coastal Venture Properties LLC (CVP) to present a disposition agreement to the city for the purchase of Station 16, a firehouse located downtown that has been considered surplus property.
According to Brad Gillis, partner of CVP, the company was first awarded the property in December of 2009. Salisbury accepted a $100,000 bid for the firehouse from Coastal Venture Properties LLC, which plans on using the building as a restaurant, with a special focus on education. The plan for the site was to use it to train University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) students studying in the culinary and hospitality fields. Gillis reviewed the history of CVP’s process in completing a disposition with the city for the past two years. He made it clear that CVP has remained in complete contact with city administration in forming an agreement but have had continuous setbacks.
“We are here today because there has been a lapse in time but neither body nor ourselves, nor the city has said negotiations in regards to this disposition agreement has ceased,” Gillis said. “We have continued in good faith and spirit of the agreement and we have moved processes forward, some days an inch, some days a mile.”
Councilman Tim Spies said that according to rough calculations this would not be the first, but around the fourth extension CVP would receive.
“This is not the first time the city has fallen down on an enterprise such as this and its case and procedure,” he said. “The procedure wasn’t followed … I will not put my name on this I want this done right. It’s time for us to knuckle down and get the paper work right before we either sell or give away a property.”
Council President Terry Cohen agreed and said she has become concerned that perceptions of bids have become miscued in that a bid is a plan not a concept.
“When you are talking about the integrity of a process for all the bidders that may come before the City of Salisbury that we need to get these things cleaned up and right and that the expectations are clear,” she said.
Local Owner Restaurant Association (LORA) President Stewart Davis said that the association has been left out of the loop in the past two years and at this point the members do not want to see the project move forward unless positive discussion can take place easing concerns.
“What we need is positive affirmation to go forward with this venture that small businesses, small restaurants, and LORA members will not be adversely affected by the opening of a per say restaurant or a subsidized entity,” he said.
Vice President of Technology and Commercialization at UMES Dr. Ron Forsythe pointed out that the university is focused on business growth and job creation and that it’s particularly in tune with the needs and challenges that small businesses face.
“We have no intention or desire to operate a restaurant that would be subsidized by funding,” he said.
Forsythe said that he would appreciate it if the 60-day extension was granted so that CVP, UMES and LORA would have the opportunity to have discussions.
“I would think by the time the 60 days are completed you would not see the opposition for what our intentions are for that sight,” he said.
Rob Mulford, owner of Market Street Inn in downtown Salisbury, said that he is in support of having a educational program being placed in the fire house and that it would be beneficial to the Salisbury community because it generate skilled culinary individuals.
“Anything that takes a chance of building something right now is to be commended and if we can have an agreement that can enhance with some kind of training … I would be in support of that,” he said.
Councilwoman Eugenie Shields also supported the 60-day extension. She said she would like to see the opportunity for CVP, UMES, and LORA to work together in developing the Station 16.
“We talk about revitalizing downtown and I think that this project is a perfect project … we need to build up the plaza so people will come downtown,” she said.
The council voted 3-1 to put a stop to the disposition agreement, sending the process back to the beginning.
Mayor James Ireton asked to have the fire house placed back on the earliest agenda.
“This is a giant step backwards for downtown,” he said.