RALEIGH, N.C. — The City Council voted Tuesday to begin condemnation proceedings to gain control of a piece of downtown property for the proposed City Plaza.
Months of negotiations between the city and The Simpson Organization, which owns the property at the south end of Fayetteville Street where the plaza would be located, have broken down.
City officials don't want further delays, which could mean higher construction costs, so they're moving to acquire the land by eminent domain. A two-week window remains for the city and The Simpson Organization to reach an agreement before the condemnation suit is filed.
Raleigh sold the plaza site about 20 years ago to encourage downtown development. The Simpson Organization, a group of investors in Atlanta, also owns the adjacent Bank of America office tower and a parking garage beneath the plaza site.
Boyd Simpson, president of The Simpson Organization, said his company was “very disappointed” by the council’s decision. Simpson said moving forward with the condemnation effort will be “negative for the city and public.”
“The authorization of a condemnation is inappropriate and will not give the city the ability the right to start construction any earlier than they otherwise can,” Boyd said in a letter to the council following the decision.
Simpson on Tuesday submitted a formal request to address the council at that night's meeting. The request form states anyone wishing to speak must return the form one week prior to the scheduled meeting.
"We realize this form is late, however, we were not informed by city personnel of the intended action until after the relevant true period. Given the high importance of the matter we send this request now," Simpson wrote.
In a letter sent to the council earlier, Simpson urged them not to condemn the property. He said The Simpson Organization has offered the city an irrevocable license allowing it to proceed with construction. The company had not received any response from the city manager or attorney, the letter stated.
“We have no incentive to delay the project and any claim to the contrary is without merit and untrue,” Boyd stated.
The city was trying to negotiate an easement to access the plaza. Officials envision the City Plaza project, which would include glass retail pavilions, light towers and water fountains, as Raleigh's "public living room," offering a gathering place for local residents and a space for public concerts and other events.
The plaza was supposed to open in September, along with the neighboring convention center and Marriott hotel, but the lengthy easement negotiations have pushed the opening date back a year to September 2009.
The delays have added more than $2.5 million to the total project – originally estimated around $21 million.
Council members received a list from The Simpson Organization claiming city staff caused delays in the project by taking long periods of time to review documents and respond to the company.