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HEDRA hears fourth Hudson development concept: Pool narrows to three as decision deadline approaches

For a few minutes Thursday evening, there were four potential development concepts for the former Hudson building in downtown Hastings. But that number has now been reduced to three.

Coming in at the end of the October deadline, Pat Regan and Bill Weyland presented a fourth concept to the Hastings Economic Development and Redevelopment Authority. Regan led the development of Schoolhouse Square and he owns the Hastings Bus Company. His father founded Premier Bank. Regan met Weyland, an architect and an accomplished riverfront and historical developer for City Properties in Louisville, Ky., through his daughter, who married Weyland’s son.

Weyland has worked on several historic restoration projects on the Ohio River in Louisville, including the Louisville Slugger Museum and Bat Factory, the Louisville Glassworks district, the Zir Med Towers and the Troll Pub Under The Bridge. The Glassworks district currently draws about 80,000 people to the area every year, while the Louisville Slugger Museum and Bat Factory draws about 200,000.

Many elements of those projects are similar to what the Hudson building in Hastings has, he said. One of his success stories started with a building that was deemed Louisville’s ugliest building, and the only reason it wasn’t torn down was because it was too big. Now it is home to more than 30 working artists, about 40 apartments, office space and a rooftop venue that has become a popular wedding spot.

The key to making a building like the Hudson building a successful redevelopment is in bringing a mix of uses that ultimately bring people, he said.

“Ultimately, it’s about how do you get people, because people create everything,” Weyland said.

Some of the ideas Weyland and Regan have for the Hudson building include hotel and apartment space as well as public space. The second floor has the opportunity for a terrace overlooking the river and there’s potential for a rooftop venue as well, Weyland said. Later on there could be opportunities for expanding to the west or adding event space.

Parking could be handled in a few ways, Weyland said. He has worked with cities in the past to create parking underneath structures and has arranged to have parking structures built. Regan advocated for building a parking ramp.

“There’s a lot of ways to deal with the issue,” Weyland said.

The riverfront and the new bridge are two features that Weyland is excited about.

“You’ve got a great new bridge; it’s going to create a tremendous opportunity and the opportunity is to really create a vista that brings the river right back up to your city,” he said.

Regan also said they’re excited to talk with Artspace about what the two groups could possibly do together.

Regan cited his familiarity with Hastings and the work he’s already done here. He’s been through the same process here already with Schoolhouse Square and said his team can offer real-world economics.

“We know what it takes to rent space, we know our customers, … we know what they can afford, we know how to work with them,” he said. “… We know how to do that here in Hastings.”

There are still a lot of questions about the financing, such as the cost of construction and the cost of the building itself, which HEDRA currently owns. HEDRA bought it from Hudson Manufacturing for $3 million. But Weyland and Regan said they would not ask for tax increment financing (TIF), and they would find a lot of the funds through federal and state tax credits.

“We extensively use market tax credits, historic tax credits on many levels,” Weyland said.

Regan was focused on turning the site into something that would not only look nice, but would also help everyone downtown while taking advantage of the river.

“Let’s do something nice,” Regan said. “Let’s make sure it works for everybody.”

Next steps

With the deadline for concept submissions now past, HEDRA’s next task is to select one of the four development firms and offer it an exclusive opportunity to fine tune plans and work out the details of development.

Earlier this year, HEDRA had set a decision deadline for the end of the year, but after discussing Thursday, they’ve decided to extend that deadline one more month.

HEDRA will be selecting a concept based on a set of questions. Those questions address how well a concept meets HEDRA’s development goals, if the proposed uses are acceptable and if any desired uses are missing, if there’s enough public space, how well it fits next to the residential neighborhood, its relationship to the rest of downtown, if it will draw more people downtown, how it takes advantage of the setting, if it meets the downtown design standards, if it will increase downtown viability, if it includes a unique and how it reflects local history and culture.

HEDRA commissioner Tony Alongi suggested taking an extra month to provide each developer with the list of questions against which their proposals would be measured, in order to give them an opportunity to make revisions.

“It’s only fair to give them some time to respond to this,” Alongi said.

Commissioner Kurt Keena agreed. So far, HEDRA has been careful and hasn’t rushed anything, he said, and taking another month to make the best decision won’t hurt.

“What we have is time, and I’m very comfortable spending time to get a good end product,” he said.

While developers review the questions and make any revisions to their concepts, city staff will be busy organizing information into a comparable format for HEDRA. Ehlers Associates, a firm that has been working with HEDRA to assist in evaluating development options, will work with developers to establish each group’s financial capacity to do the job they’re proposing and to deal with the issues that inevitably arise with such projects.

Adding the extra month to the schedule will likely push the selection of a concept into December. After HEDRA picks one, city staff will begin putting together an agreement that would likely be signed early in 2014.

The agreement at that point would be a preliminary one. It would allow one developer exclusive rights to the site for a period of time (likely about one year), during which it would wade into the details of what it would take to renovate the building and find out definitively if their concepts would work.

At the end of the preliminary agreement, the developer would come back to the city with its results and potentially begin getting planning approvals necessary for construction to begin.

Narrowing the field

Those vying for the project include Sherman Associates, The Beard Group, Artspace and Regan and Weyland. But as the decision making process moves forward, only three of those will be considered.

HEDRA rejected the Sherman Associates proposal Thursday, referencing a problematic outstanding debt the firm already has with the city.

Sherman Associates was the developer for the Guardian Angels redevelopment project in downtown Hastings back in the early 2000s. As part of the project, the Hastings Redevelopment Authority at the time put together a loan for a portion of the building, explained Community Development Director John Hinzman. The loan had a repayment deadline, which HEDRA has extended a few times over the past several years.

The loan, which was originally for just under $200,000, came due in 2010 and is still outstanding, Hinzman said, despite claims by Sherman Associates that it will be repaid. The balance of the loan, with the principle and interest, is now more than $200,000. Hinzman said he doesn’t believe any of the loan has been repaid.

HEDRA commissioners voted to move forward on the Hudson project without Sherman Associates, to ensure it is moving ahead with the group most likely to be a partner with HEDRA and the city, Alongi said.