Developers submit bids for Northport City Hall site

From the Tuscaloosa News: Developers submit bids for Northport City Hall site

Northport has moved closer to its goal of attracting more high-quality retailers to the city.

Three developers have submitted multimillion dollar proposals to purchase and repurpose the Northport Civic Center, City Hall and Fire Station 1 on McFarland Boulevard. The proposals range from a center anchored by a grocery store or a restaurant to a more ambitious one that would combine the City Hall site with 17 acres of adjoining properties.

District 5 City Councilman Jeff Hogg, who chairs the city’s Retail and Development Committee, recommended looking into selling the property earlier this year.

He said the municipal government uses only about half of the 36,000 square-foot civic center, and that its 5-acre lot at the intersection of U.S. Highways 82 and 43 may be better served as a retail center.

Northport leaders have said the city loses millions of dollars in sales tax revenue when its residents drive to Tuscaloosa or Birmingham to shop. With thousands of vehicles traveling the roads nearby, the City Hall site has the potential to provide an economic boost for Northport by keeping some of those shoppers inside the city limits.

After a unanimous vote from the City Council to explore their options, Northport’s Development Coordinator Max Snyder requested that developers submit proposals detailing how much they would pay for the property, how they would use it, where they would propose relocating City and Fire Station 1 and more.

Three companies submitted proposals before the Oct. 11 deadline.

The largest proposal came from the Beeker Property Group, an affiliate of the Tuscaloosa-based Ingewood Land Coy.

Beeker offered to pay $3.5 million for the civic center property in his proposal, which is not only well above other offers but also more than 160 percent of the site’s appraised value.

City officials hired a Montgomery firm to price the property in May. They reported it was worth $2.1 million, but added they valued the site as if it were vacant “as no prudent investor would purchase the subject for its current use.”

“We feel like, considering the people we’re in talks with, we can justify that price,” Beeker said Friday. “We definitely came in high, but that was based more on what we thought the city needed (to relocate City Hall and Fire Station 1) and we feel like down the road the investment will come back to us. With the ideas we have, the price will be justified.”

Beeker owns several properties immediately east of the civic center, including the strip center that houses the Salvation Army Thrift Store, another strip center containing Swen Chinese Restaurant and Los Tarascos Mexican Restaurant, and storage units and residential apartments to the north.

In the proposal, Beeker said taking possession of City Hall will allow his company to look at options that utilize all that property instead of only the 5-acre civic center lot.

“Beeker Property Group owns the adjoining property that consists of +/- 17 acres which gives us the unique opportunity to combine the sites,” Beeker wrote in its proposal. “We believe this would create the synergy required to attract national retailers. This would make an impact in terms of sales tax revenue to the city and provide new-to-market goods and services for the residents of Northport.”

Beeker said he purchased the sites next to City Hall last December and has wondered since then how to maximize their potential and create a high-quality trade area.

“From the day we bought them, we’ve felt like those centers need a major upgrade,” Beeker said. “This is one of the highest traffic spots in Northport and we want to give it the fresh, upscale look it deserves.”

Beeker’s bid also proposes to relocate the fire station to a vacant lot between Moore Petroleum Co. and New Beginnings Family Worship, north of Robert Cardinal Airport Road and south of McDaniel Arms Apartments. The proposal does not include a specific site for City Hall, but Beeker said he is looking for a 5-acre site in proximity to historic downtown Northport.

Atlanta’s Southeastern Retail Development, LLC offered $1 million for the City Hall site and recommended bulldozing the civic center and building a restaurant, a fast-food chain and a coffee shop there.

SERD said they aim to bring “nationally recognized food concepts” to the site. Their proposal cited several successful development projects in Georgia and one in Trussville, Alabama but acknowledged that they had never worked in Northport before and did not offer suggestions on where to relocate City Hall and the fire station.

Capital Growth Buchalter, a Birmingham developer, did not say in their proposal how much they would pay for the property, instead promising to “work with the city to establish a purchase price in light of the proposed relocation of City Hall and Fire Station Number 1.”

CGB has previously redeveloped both the Publix-anchored Northwood Crossings shopping center and the WalMart-anchored Northport Corners. Their president, Robert Buchalter, said he is eager to work with the city.

“We view the project as an opportunity to form a public-private partnership with the city to redevelop the project for the highest and best use with an aim to maximize sales taxes, use taxes and property taxes,” Buchalter said. “One of our visions is a mixed-use retail project that incorporates some vertical components that could possibly include retail, office, residential or medical.”

Buchalter said they were also considering a grocery-anchored shopping center with some space for restaurants and other retailers and that CBG would be willing to purchase additional property to maximize the site’s potential.

He also said the company is actively reviewing the Northport market for options on where to relocate City Hall and the fire station.

Councilman Hogg said he’s ready to move forward and may ask the council to vote on the proposals when they convene Monday night.

If the city accepts any of the three proposals, Northport would enter into a six-month period of exclusivity with that company to allow each party to perform its due diligence and decide whether to proceed with the purchase. Either entity could back out for any reason during that time period without consequence.