Although many of them still have many questions about the potential purchase of the vacant Twin City Foods property in downtown Lewiston, five city councilors voted Monday evening to enter negotiations with the company with an offer starting point of $800,000.
The latest group of advisers, most of whom left office Jan. 10, voted to accept a $2 million purchase deal that had been blocked by Vancouver, Wash., developer Ginn Group. Ginn was considering a multi-year, mixed-use development on the property that could have been worth up to $200 million, but he decided the project was just too big considering the potential return on that investment. It is the only serious attempt to redevelop the vacant property since a vegetable processing factory was razed over a decade ago.
But Twin City Foods declined an offer from the city to extend the closing date and deposit deadlines to allow the new council to consider the purchase, and that purchase agreement expired. Now the new council is starting from scratch, asking Mayor Dan Johnson and city staff to start the purchase negotiations all over again. If an agreement can be reached, it still has to come back to the full council for final approval.
Community Development Department officials like Director Laura Von Tersch have recommended the purchase so the city can make infrastructure improvements, clean up soil contamination and divide the property into manageable pieces that will be more attractive to developers. .
Von Tersch told council at Monday night’s meeting that if split-and-sell properties could earn private investment worth $135 million, they would generate about $500,000 in property taxes each year at rates of current taxes. She also said that as a landlord, the city could shape developments towards the mix of commercial and residential space that is rare in downtown.
“When you weigh that against the investment, the potential and the risk, the risk is worth taking to have that potential complete our downtown,” she said. “And I would say residential would be an incredible use, an incredible offering, that has no competition in our market in terms of river views.”
Councilor Luke Blount questioned the price of potential condos in future developments and whether they would only be within reach of the ‘elite’. Von Tersch said these types of properties would cost upwards of $500,000, but as a landlord, the city could mandate developers to include affordable housing in their plans.
Several councilors, including council chair Hannah Liedkie and councilor Kassee Forsmann, expressed support for what the city could do to spur development at the site. But they said they still wanted more information, including details on how much money the city would have to invest to really make the land marketable.
And adviser Jim Kleeburg said he thought the $2 million price Ginn negotiated was too high, suggesting he could be had between $800,000 and $1 million. He made the amendment to Councilor Kathy Schroeder’s accepted motion to enter into negotiations with Twin City Foods with a starting offer of $800,000.
Blount was the only councilor not to support the motion. As mayor, Johnson only votes to sever ties.
The city has received no quotes from four local contractors to remove the remains of the burnt-out Emperor of India King Thai restaurant on Main Street, which has been boarded up since a fire in December 2019. Assistant city attorney Kayla Hermann said that it was previously thought that the work would cost less than $50,000, the threshold that requires the city to officially present a proposal for a call for tenders. But with no takers, Hermann said the next step would be to institute this formal bidding process.
Johnson and the council appointed several councilors to city boards and commissions, and several outside groups. Blount will go to the Forestry and Urban Cemeteries Commission; Schroeder will go to the Code Board of Appeals and the Historic Preservation Commission; Liedkie will go to the Disability Advisory Board; Forsmann will go to the Emergency Services Advisory Board and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board; and Rick Tousley will go to the library board.
Blount and Kleeburg will go to the city’s audit committee; Schroeder and Forsmann will go to the new Public Works Advisory Board; Kleeburg and Schroeder will go to the Lewis-Clark Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization; Liedkie will serve as council liaison to the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport Authority Council; Tousley will represent the city at Association of Idaho Cities meetings with Kleeburg as an alternate; and Liedkie will represent the city for the Clearwater Economic Development Association with Kleeburg as an alternate.
The council also named Tousley as its new representative at the Lewiston Urban Renewal Agency, with Kleeburg as an alternate. Councilors appointed Lewiston Harbor Commissioner Joe Anderson as the port’s representative to the URA.