Here's reporter Jackie Majerus' account of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp.'s decision to start looking again:
It's back to the drawing board for the failed mall property.
The Bristol Downtown Development Corp. voted Monday to reject the only two proposals for the 17-acre city-owned site and start again.
Board Chairman Frank Johnson said the BDDC spent plenty on advertising, but never expected the economic downturn that seems to have slowed a lot of development.
"The market went south," said BDDC board member John Leone. "We just hit the recession."
Timing is everything, several board members said.
Leone said the recession is supposed to last a year, and we're already six months into it. But he admitted it could take longer to find the right developer.
"It may be three years," said Leone. "This is a great piece of property in the heart of downtown Bristol."
Leone said the proposal from Cielo Real Estate Investment Group of California, which was on behalf of Heritage Financial Services of Florida "doesn't meet the criteria."
But Leone said Cielo should be welcome to return with a revised proposal.
BDDC attorney David Sheridan agreed. He said Cielo understands what the city wants, but didn't complete the application.
"They're encouraged to submit again," said Sheridan, "cause they get it."
Johnson said it could be Heritage Financial's mode of operating to come in with an early bid and see what happens, but he said there's not enough in their proposal to make a decision about it. He said the BDDC will never know unless they ask Heritage Financial.
"The one thing I did find interesting and exciting was the rendering," said Johnson, who said the nicely done map that came with the Heritage Financial proposal had everything, from a range of retail stores to offices and residential units complete with swimming pools and putting greens on the rooftops.
"From a concept point of view, that's the idea," said Johnson, that the BDDC is looking for. "It included the kind of mixed uses we wanted to see."
But Johnson also said that Heritage Financial didn't answer 10 of the 14 questions that were required as part of the proposal, especially those relating to finances.
Others on the board seemed skeptical of the drawing.
"They gave us a pretty little map," said Jennifer Janelle, a BDDC board member. "The map is fantastic, but it's a drawing. It doesn't mean anything."
She said the other response, from landscaping firm CenterPlan Development Co. – which was more of an offer to do work on the project than a proposal to take it on – offered references, while Heritage Financial did not.
Tom Cosgrove, a BDDC board member, said anyone could hire an artist to make a beautiful map.
"I saw nothing in the proposal that made me feel confident they could execute that map. I don't want to sound negative," said Cosgrove, but "you gotta do more than draw a map."
"What we got is a wish list of what we would like," said Wright.
Gardner Wright, another BDDC board member, said the projects done by Heritage Financial are "mostly campground sites selling time shares." He said he doesn't think the board is interested in dealing with a developer who is going to "flip the property."
The board decided to hold their July meeting like a workshop and put ideas on the table and make a plan for moving ahead.
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