The time has come, he says, to free up the property so it can be developed by someone else. "What it comes down to is, Where is the money and are you going to do it or not?" he says. In recent weeks, Wilder says he's requested to meet with ECI's new development partner to no avail. And after a recent conversation with Sheila Hill-Christian, executive director of the RRHA, he was spurred to action.
Hill-Christian sent Wilder a detailed letter June 28 expressing the authority's "heightened concern" over the project's progress. In 2002, RRHA entered into an agreement with ECI to transfer the property after March 31, 2004, at a cost of $3.5 million. So far, ECI has produced no cash, and no information to the authority regarding the progress of its development, Hill-Christian says.
A clause in the contract dictates that ECI must purchase the property within 120 days after receiving "applicable state and federal tax credits," Hill-Christian says.
ECI was approved as eligible for some $20 million in state and federal tax credits by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Park Service in September. Subsequent approvals on the actual rehabilitation work, a more detailed process, came on Jan. 20 and Feb. 25, Hill-Christian said in the letter.
As of July 1, 126 days had passed since the last approval Feb. 25.
"We are very concerned about the slow movement," Hill-Christian told Style, "and not having received updates that confirm that the project is moving forward."
Michael T. Laing, managing officer of ECI Development Services, a company owned by Chicago developer Gary A. Beller, declined to comment. In recent interviews, however, Laing said ECI had been negotiating with a development partner on the Miller & Rhoads project, which includes condos and apartments on the top floors. ECI hasn't disclosed its financial partner, but Hill-Christian writes in her letter to Wilder that the partner is Historic Restoration Inc., based in New Orleans.
Wilder says the city is ready to go to court if necessary to alter the agreement or void it altogether. At his urging, Hill-Christian has even started sending ECI bimonthly bills for the property's upkeep, including $7,499.50 for two security officers.
And last week, at Wilder's directive, Chief Administrative Officer William Harrell stepped down as chairman of the Broad Street Community Development Authority, which hired ECI to manage some $66.7 million in streetscape and infrastructure improvements on East Broad Street. The CDA is tied closely with the Miller & Rhoads project and is charged with overseeing the hotel's development.
At the meeting, Laing noted that the CDA was doing well, and that additional parking revenues added $400,000 to its current fiscal year budget.
Wilder insists it's time to move forward. "Let's get it on if you want to get it on," Wilder says. "We might end up in court, not that I want that." Scott Bass
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