The Canada Dry affair

by YES! Staff

Vested interests abound in the saga that has been slowly unfolding around the Canada Dry building adjacent to the Greensboro Coliseum.

As the situation stands after last week’s city council briefing, the city is looking to drop $3.7 million on the property, ostensibly to build an ACC Hall of Champions.

But there’s a lot more to it.

There is an environmental angle: Discharge from underground petroleum storage tanks has contaminated the groundwater, the rectification of which will surely be a costly endeavor. The cleanup of the site, which was first ordered by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2002, is ongoing. There are also issues with asbestos and lead paint in the structure itself.

It is also a media story, as the property is owned in part by Greensboro News & Record Editor John Robinson’s wife Susan, who shares the title with her brothers. To be fair, the local newspaper of record discloses this fact whenever appropriate, but it’s equally true that Robinson will personally profit from the sale of the property, whomever eventually buys it.

And there’s no small amount of politicking going on here, largely concerning the ACC museum, which we see as one of the bigger chips in this pile.

We’ve got a $2 million grant from the state earmarked for this thing, but opposing forces argue whether the spot would serve Greensboro better nestled next to the arena or somewhere downtown, where it would lure tourists to the shops, restaurants, clubs and attractions of our center city. And if we use that $2 million to buy the property, the location of the Hall of Champions would be locked in.

But at this stage, we are looking at this thing as a business proposition – a commercial real estate deal. The tax value of the property is $1.5 million. The property owners, through their agent Carl Essa, say the parcel could fetch $4.1 million, but they’re asking for $3.7 million, though a year ago they offered the same property to the city for half a million less. And our mayor, Keith Holliday, says it’s worth $2 million, max.

This is important because our mayor has worked in commercial real estate since 1996. Councilman Tom Phillips, another dissenting voice on the governmental body, has a background in finance and a documented history of fiscal conservatism.

And we’re siding with these guys.

If the purchase is purely taxpayer funded – that is, bought without the state’s $2 million grant – then the city finds itself in the real estate speculation business, sitting on the parcel until it finds a buyer in the hopes of turning a profit or waiting for a viable time and purpose to develop the land on its own. We are uncomfortable with that. The role of property acquisition and development, we feel, falls on the private sector.

The commercial viability of this space on High Point Road is yet to be determined – especially when factoring in expenses for rehabilitation of the land and structure.

Then there’s the fact that if we use state money to make the purchase, the site of the ACC Hall of Champions will be a foregone conclusion and we think the subject should be open to more debate.

There’s no reason to act fast – the property has been dormant for at least half a decade and on the market, according to Essa, for “just over a year.” If the property is so hot, surely some visionary developer would have acted on it already.

In the end, it just doesn’t seem like such a good deal, particularly with the environmental issues and the vastly differing opinions on the property’s true value.

And we suggest that the city of Greensboro stay away from the real estate speculation business altogether and focus on more pressing issues like crime, the police department and a living wage.

The market is terrible these days anyway, we hear.