T.J. Tuten, on recess from home schooling with his mother, Gwen, takes to his skateboard at the downtown Albany skate park off East Oglethorpe Boulevard last September in this file photo. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — In a meeting asked for by businessman Johnny Williams in advance of today’s Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority meeting, city officials worked out a possible agreement that could end the months-long impasse surrounding Williams’ attempt to lease the 125 College Ave. skate park property owned by the city.
39 total votes.
Williams and his brother, Tony Williams, principals in Rabbitman Footwear Inc., said they were OK with proposals that would facilitate their agreed-upon five-year, $500-a-month lease that would start after the city made some $12,000 in estimated improvements to the skate park property or to City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher’s suggestion that Rabbitman occupy the property rent-free for a year and pay for any needed improvements.
City Attorney Nathan Davis had suggested the latter agreement when talk of Rabbitman leasing the property first arose.
New interim Downtown Manager Sharlene Cannon, who was not in Albany when discussion of the proposed lease started with a letter from Johnny Williams to ADICA on Feb. 11 nor when the board reached a tentative agreement for the $500 lease payments, said her review of the matter indicated the $12,000 needed for repairs of the property was not in the authority’s budget.
That’s when Fletcher, who said the $12,000 bid included work on skating facilities that would not be needed and was “automatically increased because it was a city project,” suggested the one-year rent-free agreement in return for Rabbitman taking responsibility for repairs.
Fletcher also took a shot at former Downtown Managers Don Buie and Aaron Blair, going so far as to suggest dissolution of the inner-city authority.
“I’m tired of us bringing people in here who are only interested in padding their resumes,” she said. “That’s what Don Buie did, and that’s what Aaron Blair apparently has done. He promised these gentlemen (the Williams brothers) all these things that he was not authorized to promise, knowing he was about to move on to another job in another city. I’m tired of us bringing in outsiders who are only using us to get a bigger job.
“I don’t mind putting it on the table: I believe Aaron Blair strung these gentlemen along. Maybe it’s time we dissolve ADICA as it currently is and look at doing something else.”
Johnny Williams asked Cannon, Assistant Downtown Manager Monique Broughton and City Attorney Nathan Davis to meet with him and his brother to discuss the proposed lease agreement between ADICA and Rabbitman. Fletcher, whose ward includes the skate park, was also asked to take part, as was local activist William Wright.
Wright, the former head of the Dougherty NAACP chapter, accused city officials of not dealing in good faith with the Williamses.
“I don’t know that ‘bad faith’ needs to be put out there, but I know if ADICA intended for (Williams) to be in that property, he’d be in there by now,” Wright said.
Wright also argued that the $1,500 sought by ADICA as a condition of the lease agreement (first and last months’ rent plus a deposit) was excessive, but Davis pointed out that the Williamses were not arguing about that part of the proposed agreement.
“They have the money that was agreed upon,” Davis said. “If we’re ready to go forward, tonight there will be a vote. It’s as simple as that.”
Cannon said another sticking point she came upon while reviewing the proposal was removal of skating equipment from the property. She said the city had gotten three bids for removal of the equipment, and the lowest was $90,000.
“With $12,000 in improvements and $90,000 to remove the equipment, you’re looking at more than $100,000,” the interim downtown manager said. “There’s just no money for that.”
Johnny Williams suggested — and said he would be willing to add such a stipulation to the lease agreement — that the city fence the area around the skating equipment and leave it where it is until Rabbitman or some other bidder actually bought the property.
All agreed that that was a suitable solution to the financing problem.
Tony Williams asked Cannon, point-blank, if ADICA had decided that it didn’t want to lease the property to Rabbitman.
“Do y’all want to rent the place to us?” he asked. “If not, I’m puzzled why that wasn’t presented before we got this far along in this process.”
Cannon said she would leave the matter on tonight’s ADICA meeting agenda for discussion but that the ultimate decision on action taken will be made by the ADICA board.
Broughton said the discussion held Wednesday morning should have been held long before this point.
“The questions that should have been asked in the beginning are being asked at the end,” she noted.