By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
Four days after news broke of a potential buyer for the Marting’s building, that offer is off the table and the chairman of the city’s Building Committee has resigned.
Building Committee Chairman Alan G. Barlow delivered Wednesday to the Daily Times a printed copy of his resignation addressed to Portsmouth Mayor David Malone.
“In my opinion the Building Committee has been nothing but a sham and exists merely to give cover for certain elected officials and their plan to use the Marting’s building against the wishes of the public. I will not be part of these covert meetings activities that are clearly evident in emails between certain council members, Mayor Malone, and others.”
Soon after Barlow announced his resignation, Mistie Spicer, another member of the committee, resigned.
“It’s a conflict of interest with my job at the (WNXT) radio station,” Spicer said. “That’s why I resigned. I didn’t resign because of anything else. I didn’t realize the situation was going to get as controversial as it has gotten. And I should be covering it instead of serving on the committee.”
Earlier in the day, First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson said he was asked by the unnamed non-profit organization once interested in the Marting’s building to announce that the proposal was off the table.
“What began as a very good opportunity for a number of organizations and our community has once again met the same demise many other things in our community have over the years,” Johnson wrote. “What is really sad is this might not have even made economic sense to pursue but we could never even get to the point of examining the project using real numbers to see if it was beneficial to all parties.”
In the same email, Johnson blames a “complete lack of leadership on the part of the City in setting the Building Committee’s agenda.” He said he acknowledges the proposal might not have worked out but said it was “shot down” before it even had a chance.
“The reality is there was never an offer made of anything other than to explore to see if this would work out. The organization was willing to give it a look and the Marting’s Foundation was willing to consider funding it,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson said he was asked by the unnamed organization to inform the city that their potential offer is “off the table” and, in his email, Johnson blamed a “relentless effort” by Barlow to reject the possibility and accused the media of “misdirection and misinformation.”
Johnson was likely referring to a Saturday report by the Daily Times that incorrectly quoted Malone as saying he offered the Marting’s building to the organization for $1. The Daily Times published a clarification the following day that the organization had instead offered to purchase the Marting’s building for $1.
Johnson wrote that the potential buyer “quite correctly perceived a political maelstrom” as an explanation why the organization backed out.
“I shall not ever reveal the name of the organization which may have been interested in pursuing this mutually beneficial potential and I shall have nothing further to say regarding the matter, save for the fact that I find it no wonder few if any businesses or organizations attempt to locate or invest in our City,” Johnson wrote.
The Portsmouth Daily Times submitted on Tuesday a records request to Portsmouth Mayor David Malone and City Councilmen Rich Saddler and Kevin Johnson. Malone shared numerous emails that show conversations about the potential sale were ongoing for five months without discussion in open City Council meetings or with public input.
The Times learned through documents it obtained that the local non-profit organization has the assets and ability to invest their own capital into the project, and only had need for a small amount of space in the building, “leaving ample room for the city to consolidate its offices in the building.” The description said the organization is “flexible” on the location of its space in the building; and would primarily be using the facilities during evening hours when the city offices will be closed, thus, not interfering with any parking for users of the city building during the day. “The organization would bring payroll to the city as well as people into town on a weekly basis spending money in our town.”
The same document listed the proposed financial structure of the transaction.
“The city would sell the property to the organization for $1. As a part of the transaction the organization would agree to remodel the property to accommodate the city’s needs.” The document said the organization would contribute up to $1 million of its own funds to the project, and the Marting’s Foundation could contribute up to $1.5 million to the project. “The city would enter into a lease agreement with the organization for the space the city will occupy,” and that the remaining cost of the project could be financed by the organization based upon the capital investment and the lease agreement with the city.” Up to $2.5 million in cash is available to put into the project up front.” Finally, the document says the city should then sell all of the vacant property that it owns in an effort to return it to productive use and to put it back onto the tax roll.
The Portsmouth Daily Times will trace a long series of emails, Committee meeting minutes and other correspondence in a timeline of events in Sunday’s edition.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com.