HUDSON — The future of the Downtown Phase II project became even more uncertain after city council on Tuesday deadlocked on a vote to purchase property owned by Windstream Western Reserve LLC.
The 3-3 vote meant that the administration’s proposal to purchase Windstream’s parcel at 94 Owen Brown St. for $1.025 million was rejected. The Windstream building is located at a site that was envisioned to house office space as part of the Downtown Phase II project at Owen Brown Street and Morse Road.
This is the second major setback in the last two weeks in connection with Downtown Phase II. Last month, the city announced it had parted ways with the project’s developer, Testa Companies. City officials have provided few details on why they stopped working with Testa, but said it was a "mutual" decision between the municipality and the company.
When asked what the rejected property purchase meant for the Phase II project, Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) stated, "We’re not going to be doing anything in a hurry [on Phase II]."
City Manager Jane Howington did not respond to a message seeking comment by press time.
"We value our relationship with the entire Hudson community and want to be a good corporate citizen," stated Scott Morris, senior adviser for corporate affairs for Windstream. "We certainly understand the city’s position in this matter, and we remain open to the possibility of further discussions after the health care crisis has passed."
Wooldredge, along with council members Hal DeSaussure (At Large) and Kate Schlademan (Ward 1), voted in favor of the purchase, while Beth Bigham (Ward 4), Chris Foster (Ward 2) and Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) cast the dissenting votes.
Council does not currently have a seventh member after Dr. J. Daniel Williams resigned from his At Large post last month.
Before the vote on the purchase, Wooldredge motioned to table a vote on the purchase until May 19. That motion was rejected by a 3-3 vote with DeSaussure and Schlademan joining Wooldredge to vote "yes," and Bigham, Foster and Sutton voting "no."
After the meeting, Wooldredge told the Hub-Times he wanted to delay action on the property purchase due to "all the uncertainty" in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. He observed city leaders are operating in a "very uncertain business environment."
Messages left for DeSaussure and Schlademan seeking comment were not returned by press time.
While saying he opposed the purchase for "a variety of reasons," Sutton said, "with the pandemic raging and an anticipated decline in revenues, overpaying for a building with no anticipated immediate use seems more irresponsible than ever."
Sutton said the city in 2016 purchased a 4-acre lot at 100 Owen Brown St. for $750,000. After demolition and remediation costs were factored in, the overall price tag was $1.5 million.
"Even pricey downtown land isn't worth the $1 million an acre they were asking for 94 Owen Brown St.," said Sutton, who added there would’ve been "considerable demolition costs."
Sutton said he didn’t want to delay a vote until May because he doesn’t expect "the situation to be any less hazy than it is right now." He noted he wanted to put the issue to rest and focus on "more important issues."
Foster said he felt council must discuss what the city as a whole wants on the land eyed for Phase II. He added he felt most residents’ views on what should be done fall "somewhere in between" the pro-Phase II and anti-Phase II camps. Buying the Windstream site would’ve set the city on a course for doing Phase II as it is currently planned.
"That action would reignite a heated debate and drive a wedge further between us in a normally tightly knit community," stated Foster.
The leader of Hudson’s Voice LLC, a group of citizens who opposed the Phase II project in its current form, praised Bigham, Foster and Sutton for opposing the purchase.
"Council’s decision not to purchase the Windstream property was the fiscally responsible thing to do and it put the residents’ and existing local businesses’ interests first," said Rebecca Leiter, President of Hudson’s Voice.
Jessica Flagg Obert, Vice President of Hudson’s Voice, called the "yes" votes of DeSaussure, Schlademan and Wooldredge "unconscionable, especially now, as we’re in the midst of an historic global public health and economic crisis that is likely to have a negative impact on the city’s tax revenue and fundamentally change demand for office space and new retail."
Foster said he felt the "financial realities of this deal were bad for Hudson," and observed, "the economic outlook for Hudson will be less positive than we have seen in the past given a several week shutdown with several more to come."
He added that city revenues will be "negatively" impacted because he believed some businesses will not survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wooldredge said he expects the city will "take a hit" on income tax collection because of COVID-19.
Instead of Downtown Phase II, Wooldredge emphasized the city’s "main focus" is on helping local businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.
"They’re hurting," noted Wooldredge.
Due to COVID-19, Wooldredge said the city is cutting back on capital expenditures and not hiring more personnel.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.