ALBANY, Ga. — The question posed to downtown stakeholders who attended a meeting Thursday at the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission was simple. If WG&L moves locations, what then happens to the building that has been a key part of downtown for more than 86 years?
A Birmingham, Ala.-based consulting and development firm wants authorization to dig deeper into the issue and see what Albany would support for the site.
“What we do is to take a project, like we’re here to discuss today, and help put together a feasible plan,” Patrick Denney, co-founder of New Start Community Development, said Thursday. “Through that process comes much collaboration and discussion about what the community wants. We help analyze it, and put various components on the table that will make it work.”
Denney said that his company has development no specific plan for the building and only wants to do an analysis of the Albany area, delve into the socio-economic issues and look at what the community will support at the site.
Cary Neil, another co-founder of NSCD, said that his organization, which is a certified community development entity by the U.S. Treasury Department, helps implement projects following the planning phase through a process called “capital stacking” — a process that takes advantage of multiple tax credits, grants and alternative funding available through federal and state government sources meant to make projects in economically disadvantaged parts of town more feasible for developers.
“By taking advantage of the opportunities out there, all of a sudden a $10 million project may now be a $6 million project, and then you have an investor who was going out to some well-established area will say, ‘Well now, the return on my money, based on these grants and these other incentives ...’ He’s getting a rate of return that is higher here than in the well-to-do area,” Neil said.
Neil also said that when NSCD gets into the development phase of a project, it is often concerned about sustainability.
“We don’t want to get into a project, do a total build out and then just leave and then the building be empty in a year,” Neil said. “We’d want to own it and have a stake in it. Sustainability is big for us.”
WG&L is currently in negotiations to buy the SunTrust Bank building on West Broad Avenue for an estimated $4 million. If finalized by WG&L, the deal would still have to meet approval of the Albany City Commission.
Of the city commissioners invited to the event, only one attended — Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff. Others who attended included WG&L General Manager Lemuel Edwards and his administrative staff; WG&L attorney Sam Engram; Andrew Reid, Phil Cannon, David Prisant and LaNicia Hart from the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority, and Downtown Manager Aaron Blair.
While the group made sure to not project any specific projects or plans for the building, they did say that a mixed-use or multipurpose facility that meets the need for residential apartment space and retail development would be important.