Fayetteville receives another offer for West Avenue parking lot

The city-owned West Lot, also known as the Walton Arts Center parking lot, stands at the southwest corner of West Avenue and Dickson Street.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

Representatives for the Dickson Street Merchants Association this week said the city should delay its decision to sell a sliver of land on the southern end of the West Avenue parking lot for future development.

Now, it appears, they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

Mel Collier, whose family’s drug store has been operating on Dickson Street since 1950, has offered to purchase the entire 2.8-acre lot for $3 million. The offer, which Collier forwarded to the Fayetteville Flyer on Friday, was written by local attorney R. Justin Eichmann on behalf of Collier Diversification Specialties, LLC. It was addressed to Jeremy Pate, the city’s development services director, who is on vacation until Monday, June 27.

Collier said he wants to buy the lot to make sure it remains undeveloped.

“I, as well as the Dickson Street Merchants Association, are concerned about the parking in the Entertainment District and currently do not feel that a development on that site is beneficial to the parking needs of the area,” Collier said. “At least not until the parking study being performed by the city is 100 percent complete.”

Collier’s offer comes just days after Fayetteville aldermen discussed selling a 0.39-acre portion of the parking lot to developer Brian Reindl, who plans to construct a five-story residential and commercial building at the south end of the lot.

Part of the building would sit on land owned by Reindl, and the rest would cover 58 parking spaces in the city-owed lot. Reindl offered the city $337,440 for the land, plus about $87,000 to help construct 58 new parking spaces along West Avenue to make up for the lost spaces in the lot.

The idea drew mixed reaction at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Ward 2 Alderman Matthew Petty, who sponsored the proposal, said the plan would help manifest a longtime city planning goal, while solving an important safety issue, all without any loss of parking.

A mixed-use development on the southern end of the lot was first envisioned in 2004 when the city’s Downtown Master Plan was adopted. The document also calls for the eventual construction of liner buildings along the northern and eastern edges of the lot, but Reindl’s proposal deals only with the southern portion of the property.

Reindl’s project, designed by longtime local architect Rob Sharp, would include an arched tunnel to allow Frisco Trail to pass through the middle of the building, and would re-route the trail out of the current parking lot and away from vehicular traffic.

The Reindl proposal comes several months after the City Council agreed to consider ideas for the lot. At the time, some council members said they might want to wait until an ongoing transportation and parking study is complete before entertaining any formal offers.

Petty said he’s still in favor of waiting to develop the majority of the lot until the entire transportation study is ready sometime next year, but told council members Tuesday that critical pieces of the study – including a parking demand analysis – are set to be completed within the next month. By selling a small section of the lot, Petty said the council could test the idea of developing the property while still maintaining about 2 acres of land for future improvements.

Sarah Sparks Diebold, who spoke on behalf of the Dickson Street Merchants Association, and Barbara Taylor, who serves on the Walton Arts Center Council, both said the timing was wrong and the city should hold off on any action until the entire parking study is complete.

Several others echoed that sentiment, including Mel Collier’s father Carl.

“The question that comes to me is what’s the hurry?” Collier asked. “Let’s be prudent, take your time,” he urged the council.

Others disagreed, including council members Sarah Marsh and John La Tour, and Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce President Steve Clark, who said there’s no compelling reason to wait at all.

Clark said said now that the economy has recovered, the council should give strong consideration to mixed-use developments in the Entertainment District, especially those that are parking neutral. Clark said any project that helps build a sense of place by encouraging people to live in, work in and visit downtown is worthy of a discussion.

Petty said Friday he’s glad to have another offer on the table.

“I knew interest in the property was at an all-time high when I brought forward this resolution,” he said. “The offer from Collier proves it and I expect we will get more offers in the coming weeks.”

But, he added, Collier’s proposal doesn’t advance any of the goals of the Downtown Master Plan.

“If the council believes parking is the highest and best use for the property, then the city should not sell it to anyone,” Petty said. “We can run it as a parking lot on our own.”

But, he said, if the council wants a modest, mixed-use development with no loss of parking, it should pass the resolution, begin an open selection process, and choose a proposal and team that best addresses the city’s planning goals.

“I am asking the council to make this decision now because the Reindl-Sharp proposal is too good not to get a full hearing,” Petty said. “It sets a high bar for placemaking impact in our up-and-coming theatre district and I can’t wait to see competitive proposals come forward.”

The council is set to continue the discussion at its next regular meeting on July 5.