ADICA OKs lease proposal with Rabbitman's Tony Williams

Deal would allow Rabbitman Footwear to move into former skate park property

ALBANY — A divided Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority voted at its monthly meeting Wednesday to present a lease agreement to Tony Williams of Rabbitman Footwear that would allow Williams to move his business to the 125 College Drive property that once housed the ADICA-owned skate park.

Board member David Prisant objected to the authority “being in the landlord business,” but Martin Carter suggested that Williams was owed a decision.

“I don’t want to keep stringing this gentleman along,” Carter said. “We should let him know today whether we plan to negotiate a lease with him or not. We should give him the opportunity to say ‘yeah’ or ‘nay.’”

Williams had asked the board to allow him to lease the property at its March meeting, but he was instructed to come back in April. Since the skate park property had issues — broken windows, leaks — the ADICA board told Williams to return during its May meeting for a decision on whether it would lease the property for his family business that has been a part of Albany for the past 50 years.

“I was kinda/sorta OK with the way things went,” Williams said Thursday. “I didn’t really understand the debate because I was under the impression we were ready to move forward. But I’m glad we’re at a point where they’ve agreed to lease the property to me. I expect to have that worked out by their meeting next month. I’m definitely ready to move forward.”

Williams said Phase I of his plan is to move his business into the College Drive property. Eventually, he expects to sell designer footwear and clothing lines.

Prisant said he had nothing against Williams or his business but that he felt ADICA should try to sell the property rather than lease it. The authority rejected a $43,000 purchase offer from businessman Bob Brooks in January because Brooks did not submit a tenant plan with his offer. Board member Thelma Johnson said without such a plan, ADICA would be setting itself up to have another vacant property in the downtown district.

“We don’t do this (lease property) for anybody else, do we?” Prisant asked. “I’m afraid of the precedent we’d be setting. If (Williams) wants this property, let him bid on it.”

But Carter and fellow board member Michael Stewart said they thought Williams deserved an opportunity to work out a lease agreement with ADICA. Williams had previously submitted a proposal that would allow him to lease the property for $300 a month for a 24-month period, with the price escalating over the five years of the lease. The proposal also gave him first right of purchase refusal.

“What we’d ultimately be doing is giving him (Williams) an interest-free loan on the property,” Prisant said.

Board Chairwoman LaNicia Hart said she agreed with Carter and Stewart.

“Out of fairness, I think we should go ahead and draft a lease,” she said. “While (City Attorney) Nathan (Davis) works on an agreement with Mr. Williams, we can contact his current landlord, make the necessary repairs on the building and go from there.”

Davis said after the meeting ADICA has every right to lease the property.

After the board voted 5-1-1, with Prisant against and Johnson abstaining, to approve the lease plan, Prisant said, “This is a bad precedent. We’ve handled this poorly, and I’ll tell you why. We’re not real estate agents. I just don’t think this is something we want to do.”

Following the vote, Williams told the board, “I feel our business will continue to be an asset to the community.”

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Downtown Manager Aaron Blair told the board he’d met earlier in the day with five business owners who had expressed interest in the Riverfront Retail section of a downtown redevelopment master plan developed by Shandon Development. Blair said that section of storefronts along Front Street and residential development were the most immediate concerns being addressed by Shandon.

“I’m excited about the interest we’re seeing in downtown,” Blair said. “I expect in the next month, two months, three months something will be brought to this board. There are a lot of moving parts right now.”