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Albany City Commission has no answers for Cutliff Grove complex

Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center wants financial help with Nativity complex

City Commissioners Ivey Hines (right) and Bob Langstaff discuss the Cutliff Grove situation during Tuesday’s meeting. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

City Commissioners Ivey Hines (right) and Bob Langstaff discuss the Cutliff Grove situation during Tuesday’s meeting. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — Discussion of Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center’s inability to pay the monthly $6,324.06 note on the 40-unit “Nativity” apartment complex it purchased from the city of Albany in 2008 meandered in various directions at the Albany City Commission’s work session Tuesday, at times leading to passionate exchanges among members of the commission.

In the end, it was Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff who best summed up the debate.

“What a nightmare,” an exasperated Langstaff said.

Over the course of the extended discussion, Mayor Dorothy Hubbard chastised Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta for making a thinly-veiled reference to community rumors that officials with Cutliff Grove had used money from the HUD-backed Nativity project to open the failed Aunt Fannie’s restaurant in downtown Albany.

“The city did not turn this property over to Cutliff Grove in the best condition, and they have no money to make repairs. If we take ownership of that property, we’re going to have to make repairs. It would be foolish to try and sell this property. We need to find a way to make this work.”

Albany City Commissioner Christopher Pike

“This is all about trust,” Marietta said. “If we were talking about the (Flint) RiverQuarium, we’d be demanding an accounting of the salaries paid. If this were Chehaw (Park), we’d demand to see the salaries. From what I understand about this (Nativity) project, there are some excessive salaries.

“Whatever they’re using the money for, whether it’s for improvements on the property or a restaurant, we should see an accounting.”

Hubbard cut Marietta off.

“You can’t make a blanket statement like that — saying money was spent on a restaurant — when there’s no proof,” the mayor said sharply. “We’re trying to find a way to solve this issue, and you’re making statements like that.”

Hubbard later said such comments in an open meeting help fuel unfounded rumors that further divide the community.

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Albany City Commissioner Roger Marietta suggested Tuesday that the city of Albany foreclose on the Nativity apartments project of Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center and place it for sale on the open market. (Albany Herald file photo)

“We should be looking for answers, not spreading rumors,” she said.

City Attorney Nathan Davis noted that he, following earlier discussions with the commission about Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center’s financial situation, had authorized interest-only payments of around $3,500 on the property until a clear decision is made on what to do about the apartment complex and Cutliff Grove’s request to restructure its payment schedule.

Community and Economic Development officials offered a pair of options: Providing credits to CGFRC for maintaining occupancy of 70 percent or greater and passing annual HUD inspections, which would lower monthly payments to $2,524.06, or amortizing the principle balance on Cutliff Grove’s original $1.5 million loan (paid down to $1.4 million) at 0 percent interest over 40 years for a new monthly payment of $2,975.41.

Marietta suggested that the commission foreclose on the property and put it on the open market, but Davis said that the city had no grounds to foreclose since Cutliff Grove had made the monthly interest payments in accordance with its agreement. Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike said offering the apartment complex for public sale would be “foolish.”

“We have a property now that’s worth $1 million (the former La Jua’s restaurant), and we can’t get $250,000 for it,” Pike said. “And that’s in a good location. How do we expect to get fair market value for a property that’s in disrepair?

“The city did not turn this property over to Cutliff Grove in the best condition, and they have no money to make repairs. If we take ownership of that property, we’re going to have to make repairs. It would be foolish to try and sell this property. We need to find a way to make this work.”

Langstaff said the city could either work with Cutliff Grove to restructure its payment schedule, find an outside management firm to oversee the property or take on the management. That did not get a favorable response from others at the table.

“The question becomes, do we want to manage this property — and we already have too much of that — or do we want to work with this group that’s already there?” Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines said. Hines then asked Community and Economic Development staff, “If we put (this property) up for public sale without a city guarantee, what’s the likelihood of it being sold?”

City Manager James Taylor didn’t allow a reply.

“Don’t answer that,” Taylor said. “You’re asking staff if a private entity could make a profit on this property. We don’t know the answer to that question. I’ll let you answer it for yourself.”

Taylor and CED Director Shelena Hawkins told the board the city is already managing 229 apartment units at a time when it is trying to “get out of that business.”

“I toured that facility,” Taylor said of the Nativity complex. “It was in difficult condition then, and it’s even moreso now. I can tell you that they need help there, and they need a lot of help.”

Hubbard advocated for working with Cutliff Grove to restructure the payment schedule.

“If we do that, we’re still going to get our money,” she said. “It will just be a matter of when we get it. In my opinion we have not helped Cutliff Grove in a way they need to be helped. We can’t sell something that no one wants to buy, and if we outsource management, the situation is essentially the same.

“To restructure the deal seems to be the best option.”

The board voted to table the matter until it receives more information on repairs needed at the complex and it has an opportunity to talk with Cutliff Grove officials.

Also at Tuesday’s busy work session, the commission got a report from federal lobbyist Marion Turner of the Alcade Fay firm on such issues as the closure of the downtown Albany post office branch, the air traffic control tower at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport and legislation that will drastically increase flood insurance in the state.

Code Enforcement’s Nathaniel Norman said his office had found no facts that would cause it to deny blanket renewal of the 214 alcohol licenses at establishments in the city. Norman explained that some establishments, such as the East Albany Walmart that had 606 calls for police services listed during the year, are mentioned only as a reference location for police and that the numbers are not a true indication of complaints at that location.

Marietta asked if alcohol licenses granted on properties such as one on Gillionville Road that doesn’t even have an open business could be revoked. Davis said city law does not allow for such action.

“How can you penalize someone for what they might do in the future?” Pike asked.

Pike also asked if Turner might help the city seek a “categorical exclusion” that would negate the need for a $211,000 environmental assessment at the the preferred multimodal transportation site, the current bus terminal at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. Turner said he would seek help from Congressman Sanford Bishop.

“Why do we need to spend $211,000 of taxpayers’ money to determine whether it’s OK to put a bus station where a bus station already exists?” Pike asked.

Assistant City Manager Wes Smith had brought a proposal to the commission to approve the environmental assessment at a “reduced rate” of $211,000, down from the $260,000 he said it cost to complete a similar survey at the previous Roosevelt Avenue site. That site was eventually rejected, and federal funding used there lost, because of the discovery of Native American artifacts at the site.

Following the meeting, commissioners were given a “Hometown Connection Bus Tour” of downtown rental housing. “It will allow you to focus on the challenges of rental property in the community,” Taylor said.