City attorney warned council of major risks in Bull Street Deal

<font size="2">In the memo the city attorney warns in the agreement with Greenville developer Bob Hughes, potentially leaves city on the hook for more than 50 million dollars is just three years.</font>

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Columbia city attorney Ken Gaines warned council not to approve the Bull Street development deal, according to a memorandum obtained by WACH Fox.

In the letter dated July 8th, the day before council approved the Bull Street proposal, Gaines advised council of significant legal and financial risks the city could be held responsible for under the current agreement.

In the memo, Gaines warns council that the agreement with Greenville developer Bob Hughes could potentially leave Columbia on the hook for more than 50 million dollars in just three years.

The biggest concern pointed out in the memorandum are parking garages that need to be funded by the City.

Read the City Attorney's memo on Bull Street funding

"The cost of these two garages has been estimated to be at least 16 million, and more likely 24 to 32 million. With 120,000 s.f. of build and 75 million investment committed, the City will be liable for funding more than 50 million dollars in as little as three years. We have not yet seen a plan that can provide these funds for the infrastructure the City is contracting to provide," said Gaines.

One parking garage willl come after commitments to build 120,000 square feet of non-residential property - equivalent to a Wal-Mart or Lowes shopping area . Gaines believes this could happen during the first three years of the project.

Then the City would be responsible for funding a second garage, after the project has commitments to build 75 million dollars in private investments.

On July 9th, the Columbia City Council gave final approval to develop the Bull Street property.

The decision, voted 4-2, was reached following hours of heated debate on how to proceed in redeveloping the former Department of Mental Health campus on Bull Street.

This document from a City Council work session shows Council members how the city could potentially get the cash to fund the Bull Street project.

Almost two dozen different sources tied to taxes including hospitality alcohol and tobacco taxes and water and sewer funds.

Read the memo on potential Bull Street funding sources Part 1 (PDF) Part 2 (PDF).

The city says they expect full development of the campus to take 20 years. City officials pointed out that the full investment will only be made if the developer shows an $81.25 million return on that investment.

Benjamin has said that the 181-acre campus is "the largest development of tract of land in any major downtown East of the Mississippi."

The agreement also protects several of the historically significant buildings on the property including: The Babcock Building (including North and South wings), The Williams Building, The Chapel of Hope and Tree Allee.

For other building on the grounds, the developer must give City Council the opportunity to relocate them if they are not fit into the final design plan before they could be demolished.

The agreement comes after the Bull Street property spent ten years on the market and a further two and a half years of negotiation with the developer.