Marting's announced last week it is willing to extend the earlier set deadline for the city to receive $1.4 million by creating a plan to use the former Marting's building, once rejected by Portsmouth voters.
"The Marting's Foundation has agreed to extend that June 2 deadline," said city solicitor Mike Jones. "The Marting's Foundation is under no obligation to give this money to the city, but will if the city agrees to the extension."
Attorney Stan Bender, acting on behalf of the Marting's Foundation, said it was very important to emphasize there are certain requirements. First, the city has to agree to the extension that will extend the date to receive the $1.4 million to July 31, and second, by that date, pass legislation with some kind of plan as to what it will do with the city center.
Portsmouth City Council President Howard Baughman said an ordinance would be added to the City Council agenda offering for three readings, a plan to accept the plan as drawn up by Tanner Stone Holsinger & Dongess architects, then put the proposal on the ballot for voters to approve in November.
However, before the proposal will be considered, council most likely will pass emergency legislation to authorize the mayor to agree on the extension.
"If we don't pass the legislation by July 31, the Marting's Foundation will be free to not give us the money and to find another project for it," Baughman said.
"I guess I would add that the Marting's Foundation operates as a tax-exempt organization, and they have to give away six figures in money by the end of the calendar year," Bender said. "The foundation feels that money would best be spent for the city building, to renovate the property. We are pleased in what we have seen over the last few months."
David Stone, of Tanner Stone Holsinger and Donges, presented a series of artists renderings of the use of each floor of the Marting's building, the proposed Justice Center (which would house the Portsmouth Police Department, the two Municipal Courts and the Clerk's Office), as well as a proposed Riverview Hotel and Convention Center the city hopes would be built on the property occupied by the city building and adjacent parking lot.
"The committee has done a lot of hard work," Baughman said.
The committee Baughman was referring to is a building committee that includes Mayor Jim Kalb, City Councilman Mike Mearan, Jones and city auditor Trent Williams.
Both Bender and Baughman spoke openly of the need to move forward.
"It's been four or five years that this controversy as to whether the city spent too much money on the building has been going on," Bender said. "It's time to put that to rest. The city will be getting all of that money back. We need to ask the opposition if anyone is offering them $1.4 million for a city building plan. It's time to move in the direction of progress."
Baughman said he was determined the plan would be put before the voters, and said there is no comparison between the current plan and what the voters voted on when they rejected the use of the Marting's building.
"Whether City Council can do this without going to the voters, I don't honestly know, but we want to go to the voters because we don't need any more lawsuits," Bender said. "I travel a lot in my work, and in the rest of the state we are seen as a laughingstock. We need to get beyond the idea 'Did we pay too much for that building?'"
Williams said the $1.4 million that would come from the Marting's Foundation doesn't come close to paying for the plan.
"It's going to have to be paid for by taxpayers," he said.
Baughman said several methods of financing the plan are being considered, which would cost $5,167,667 for the Marting's building project after the $1.4 million rebate, and $6,689,500 for the Justice Center.
"Increase in property taxes is the first plan being considered, but it is not necessarily the best choice," Baughman said. "We talked about sales taxes, so that people who come from other areas and work in the city of Portsmouth would share in the cost, because they share in the services."
Baughman said Portsmouth Municipal Court has pledged a percentage of their fines to the project, and with several areas of the City Center designated for commercial operation, the money that would come in from the leasing of those spaces would help to offset the cost.
Shawnee Labor Council also has endorsed the plan, based on it's ratification by the voters of Portsmouth first.
"Shawnee Labor Council strongly urges City Council to adopt a reasonable plan to develop a City Center in the former Marting's building, that will house city offices and make available space for lease, like the first floor for community space and space for local business," said Austin Keyser, appointed by the president of the labor council to deal with issues in the city of Portsmouth.
"We also support the construction of a new Justice Center at the former Adelphia site, and we ask that Portsmouth City Council approve an ordinance that includes these two items. Furthermore, we ask the council pass it only after reading it before the public for three separate meetings, and that the language include a provision that requires ratification by the voters of the city of Portsmouth on Nov. 4," he said.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.