HUDSON —Though negotiations with Windstream Communications to purchase and demolish that firm’s building for the Downtown Phase II project are moving “slowly,” the city manager said this issue will not keep the development from moving forward.
The city is working on plans to tear down buildings to make room for the downtown project at the corner of Owen Brown Street and Morse Road. Jody Roberts, the city’s communications manager, said the city has already purchased Windstream’s building and property at 100 Owen Brown Street, and is currently working on buying the company’s second building and property on a 1-acre parcel at 94 Owen Brown St.
“Trying to get a phone conference with them means we need to get a lawyer from Dallas and the real estate person from Rochester and the finance person from Indianapolis, so it makes it a little bit difficult,” said City Manager Jane Howington. “That’s partly why it’s moved so slowly.”
Contrasting appraisals of the property have also been a sticking point, according to city officials. Howington said the two parties’ appraisals were “very different,” because “our appraisal is really the value of the property because we don’t want the building and their appraisal is with the building.”
Scott Morris, senior adviser for corporate affairs for Windstream, said there are about 40 employees at the data center and Network Operations Center set up at 94 Owen Brown. He said the company has several NOCs around the country and said these centers “monitor the operation of our network.”
Once the building at 94 Owen Brown is sold, Morris said those employees will be moved to the company’s site in Twinsburg.
“We value our relationship with the city of Hudson and take pride in being a good corporate citizen,” said Morris. “Negotiations are continuing, and we look forward to reaching a mutually beneficial agreement.”
Councilmember Casey Weinstein (Ward 2) said he was concerned about Windstream’s leverage in reference to the property acquisition that still being negotiated.
“The only concern I potentially have is that Windstream’s leverage may increase if they see development going around and they know the inevitability of it heading their way,” said Weinstein. “I’m not 100 percent sold on waiting them out.”
Howington said that the city “can design around them.”
“t doesn’t mean that if we don’t get their property, we can’t do this development,” she said. “We’ve always designed this with that in mind.”
She said once construction begins on Downtown Phase II, Windstream is going to “be in the middle of a construction site.”
“That’s not going to be very good for them,” said Howington. “They’re taking it seriously and they really want to try and get this resolved.”
Joel Testa, president of Testa Companies, has said he would prefer the city “invest money in the improvements to the development as opposed to investing in getting [Windstream] out quickly.”
“I appreciate that [Testa’s] being flexible with us,” said Howington.
Howington said the city will be able to “buy time” on the negotiations because the plan is for the residential structures on the northern part of the development to be constructed first.
Testa said the land where the Windstream buildings sit was originally going to be developed first, but changed his plans after learning that it was going to cost the city more money to expedite the property acquisition with Windstream.
Testa said the revised sequencing of his plans means the area north of Owen Brown will be developed in the first phase and the land south of Owen Brown — which includes the property with the Windstream buildings — will be developed in the second phase.
In addition to the land acquisition issue, Testa said it also makes sense to delay work south of Owen Brown because it gives his company more time to “pre-lease” a portion of the commercial building planned in that area, and because Summit County needs to increase the sewer capacity to accommodate the project.
The Windstream buildings are two of several structures that need to be taken down to create space for Downtown Phase II. The others are the salt dome, bus garage and Hudson Public Power storage building. No dates have been scheduled for demolition yet, according to Roberts.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.