City council members have asked consultants to make changes to a document designed to attract qualified developers for the former Maxfield Training Center property in downtown Farmington.
The city purchased the property on Thomas Street with the goal of finding a private developer. In March, officials hired Carmine Avantini of Community Image Builders (CIB) to assist with that process. He brought in Eric Helzer, who specializes in financing and creating documents for redevelopment projects,
During a September 2 electronic meeting, Avantini said Helzer brings in the perspective of private developers.
“I think we’ll have a lot of interest in this,” he said. “The housing market is still strong, and I think that will put us at a real advantage.”
Helzer said the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) doesn’t obligate either the city or developer to propose a purchase price. Rather, it requires developers to show they are capable of completing a project.
“The reason for that is … to work with a partner in a public/private partnership,” he said, adding the city would select the most qualified developer “based on a set of criteria to meet the city’s goals and objectives for the development.”
Those include public parking and a connection to Shiawassee Park, which is located just north of the property. Council member Steven Schneemann questioned how losing up to an acre of land would affect the maximum of 124 units mentioned in the RFQ.
If the size of the property drops to two acres, he said, the project would likely go up five stories, a configuration in a previous proposal that both residents and the city rejected.
Avantini said, rather than constraining the project, he’d like to hear developers’ ideas.
“There are three aspects, what the public wants, what the developer needs to make it high quality, and we also have the financing,” he said. “There’s gonna be give and take with all three of those. Our goal is to find a middle ground, maybe it’s not perfect for everybody, but maybe it’s something everybody’s happy with. I don’t want to constrain it up front so that we’re not hearing from some people.”
“We could do the analysis of backing into a worst case scenario with an acre lost,” Helzer said. “However, if the city’s objectives are able to be met with less acreage for public uses… then have them try to show us they can still accomplish the objectives and get more units.”
City may not ‘break even’
Helzer explained that the 124-unit limit is based on the use of Tax Increment Financing and assumed the city would provide no support with site clean-up or other costs.
“That’s why it’s got to be 124 units, because we’re asking for the city to break even,” Schneemann said. “That’s not going to be possible, especially when you take an acre out. I feel like we’re talking out of both sides of our mouth here.”
Helzer said the goal for the RFQ was not to come up with a specific number of units. If a developer can’t meet milestones set up early in the process, the city would be free to move on to someone else.
“I don’t want to happen what happened two or three years ago,” Schneemann said. “We could be back in the same boat if there’s a disconnect between what the administration is talking about and what council has in mind.”
Officials also asked about two houses on Grand River that the city purchased to eventually provide a connection between Grand River and the Maxfield Training Center development. Helzer said the city could ask developers how their concept plans would use those properties.
A new draft of the RFQ will be presented at a future city council meeting.