June 26, 2014

The BDDC is forcing Renaissance to give it a choice

Just an observation: In the stir caused by the notion that there may be a Depot Square referendum, it's easy to see why something potentially more significant has been overlooked.
At the request of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., Renaissance is now working out a financing plan for Building B, the one that faces Main Street and includes retail and restaurant space along the entire ground floor and the much-discussed public piazza in its rear.
Unlike Building A, which is almost entirely housing, Building B is something akin to what the project as a whole is all about. It offers some downtown commercial vibrancy as well as decent apartments for the young professionals and empty nesters who are likely to fill the space if all goes well.
The BDDC gave Renaissance until Aug. 15 to submit something to show how the financing for Building B works out.
Now here's the thing: if the city has to chip in $6 million toward the $18 million tab projected for Building A, it will certainly have to put in more to have a somewhat more costly Building B.
But what the BDDC commissioners wonder -- as well as many others -- is whether the additional cost to taxpayers of putting up Building B first is worth it. On its face, it appears to bring more to downtown than Building A. It's just a question of whether the expense is prohibitive.
There's also an issue that nobody's talking about in public: how the city should or could put the money into the project. It doesn't have to be a big check, after all. It could be almost anything, as long as investors know the city has a clear stake. I can think of all sorts of ways that could be done that give the taxpayers at least a chance of coming out of this without a big hurt, as long as it's successful. And if Bristol doesn't think the project will work out, then it shouldn't put money into it at all.
In any case, the BDDC took a big step forward to provide more choice and more options by requiring Renaissance to provide the Building B alternative. Maybe it won't matter. But perhaps it will prove the way to proceed, referendum or not.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

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