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Spencer Board of Aldermen look at closing on Park Plaza property

By Andie Foley
andie.foley@salisburypost.com

With the USDA ready and waiting to proceed with financing Spencer’s Park Plaza purchase, the town’s Board of Aldermen met Tuesday to discuss possible financial impacts of the project.

Town manager Terence Arrington said the discussion was brought forward following a question raised at the last town meeting: How would the estimated $2.9 million task of moving the town’s administration and police department into the shopping center affect the town’s operating budget?

Tyler Traudt, vice president of First Tryon Securities, used three years of the town’s historical financial records to estimate just such, factoring in how the town would fare as it addressed other outstanding or expected capital needs in years to come.

“It’s important as we’re evaluating this project to not just view it in a silo,” he said. “There are other capital needs that the town is going to be required to fund.”

Traudt’s projections estimated that some $2.6 million of the Plaza project would be debt funded. He also projected $1.5 to $2 million in additional capital needs over a 10-year period: infrastructure, IT and town vehicles, for example.

With the numbers crunched and no increases or decreases in revenue factored in, Traudt said the town could afford the Plaza renovation while still addressing its capital needs.

But, he said, it would eliminate any other sort of cushion the town had for other, major projects.

“We don’t know what the future looks like,” said Traudt. “We could hit a recession in a few years, so we want to remain conservative. … If you have other major improvement that you want to make, … you will not be able to fund those unless you have significant revenue growth, a property tax increase or a reduction in expenditures.”

Alderman Mike Boone said he still remained comfortable with proceeding with the purchase as Traudt’s projections factored in no revenue growth for the town.

“I would assume, just like you’re assuming, that in the future we’re going to be adding some aspects to the town that are going to give us more revenue, more business and more sales tax,” he said.

Boone said that the project may be a small gamble, but it was a necessity.

Other board members said they also remained in support of proceeding with the project, though concerns were raised from community members about the cost estimations of the building’s overhaul.

Danny Patterson, a resident of 8th Street, said as the project had not yet been put out to bid, there would be no guarantee that costs wouldn’t come in much higher than expected.

Arrington also expressed concern that the building’s owner would not address current needs with property — problems with the parking lot, buildings in disrepair and more.

It was a concern echoed by a current tenant of the center: dentist Dr. Ken Washko of Washko Family Dentistry.

Washko, said Arrington, had expressed concern that the terms of the closing would eliminate any contractural obligation for the owner to address these issues. If Washko does not sign on the agreement, the town will be unable to close on the property.

“No one could be happier that something’s being done here,” said Washko in talks with the Post on Wednesday. “We’ll have been here 30 years in July, and we’ve worked hard to keep our facility updated and clean.”

In that time, he said, there had been little change in the deteriorating portions of the building.

If nothing changed, Washko said he feared the unfilled portions of the building would remain as such, continuing to fall into further disrepair.

Washko said he wanted the community to know he and his business were in support of the Park Plaza upfit: “I’m here to stay, so it benefits us the most.”

“I just want to make sure we’re going to move forward as a whole shopping center and not just develop one little half of it,” he said.

In effort to move the project forward, Mayor Jim Gobbel suggested that Arrington return to the property owner and closing attorney to see if the town could purchase the parts of the property that would not be affected by Washko’s business.

This would delay the town’s purchase of an outparcel near the bank property, where the town intended to construct a park in its effort to revitalize the property.

But the town administration and police department would be able to make much-needed moves while remaining issues were resolved.

“That piece of property over there has been vacant for many, many, many years,” said Gobbel, “If we don’t move in it, it’s going to be vacant for many, many, many more years to come.”

If the town, seller and Washko can reach an agreement and proceed with closing, Arrington said the project will move on the the Local Government Commission for final approval.

This should happen in spring, he said, with construction financing and eventual groundbreaking to follow by early summer.

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