GREENVILLE — It’s been a process that has lasted several months, but a little financial assistance may finally be on its way to the owners of Flo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria.
During Tuesday morning’s Greenville Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting, City Manager George Bosanic summed up the application process on a Brownfield Authority Grant for owners Dan and Davide Uccello in one sentence — “We have movement.”
According to Bosanic, after much negotiating between attorneys representing the city, the Uccellos, and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), which administers the grant, the application is now in the final stages and could be ready to be approved for submittal by the DDA in time for the authority’s next meeting in October.
A standard Brownfield Authority Grant agreement would shift tax increment financing (TIF) that the DDA currently receives, and deliver it to the Uccellos over a period of about nine years, resulting in approximately $140,000 in funds.
The Brownfield Grant is applicable in situations with properties in which the redevelopment or reuse of the property may be complicated by the presence or perception of contamination, which was the case in redeveloping two historic buildings to create Flo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria.
However, Bosanic said the city pleaded with the MEDC to reach a common ground, claiming that 100 percent removal of the TIF from the DDA would have created too large a burden for the authority.
“We proposed splitting the TIF capture at 50 percent, as (the DDA) has obligations, such as a major bond payment to cover,” Bosanic said. “There was pushback from the MEDC on that arrangement, and so it has taken this long to negotiate with the MEDC and convince them that this is acceptable.”
Bosanic said after meeting with representatives of the MEDC on Monday, all parties were on board with the arrangement, which would result in the Uccellos receiving 50 percent of the future tax revenue over a period of 18 years to receive the $140,000 in funds.
“We were able to explain to them that we have other obligations. We want to be a partner, but we have limitations on how much of a partner we can be and still be successful as a DDA,” he said.
Bosanic said only one final question raised by members of the DDA at a previous meeting needs to be answered, and then an agreement on the application can be made.
Members previously stated they were concerned that if Flo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria were to close and go bankrupt, a new business could purchase the property at “pennies to the dollar” and continue to receive the tax revenue benefit at the expense of the DDA.
“Your questions on that are now being discussed,” Bosanic said. “Hopefully at the next meeting we’ll have a final plan to present to the DDA, and ultimately the Brownfield Authority, which also has to approve the plan at the county level. So it’s good, it’s just taking awhile.”
Bosanic said the process was also slowed down in order to reach an agreement to release future tax revenue on the local school-aid millage, to be included in the 50-50 split for both parties.
Bosanic said the Uccellos are in agreement with the 50-50 split as well, leaving the decision in the hands of the MEDC in answering the question of potential bankruptcy.
“All parties are in agreement at this point,” Bosanic said.
In light of the possibility of tax revenue being given to Flo’s, DDA member Tim Mulcahy asked if the future of the vacant building adjacent to Flo’s, which was not a part of the restaurant renovation, would receive any funding.
“It looks like an eyesore, even for them, and to have that nice facade next to it … it would be nice to do something to the front of it so it flows,” Mulcahy said.
Bosanic said the Brownfield Authority Grant would not yield any funds toward improvement of that building, as those funds are being recouped by the Uccellos in return for investing more than $1.5 million in creating the new restaurant.
However, if the grant is approved, Bosanic said future grant funds could be on the horizon.
“We applied for a Blight Elimination Grant (with the MEDC in 2015) and were denied,” Bosanic said. “It was initially $240,000 — a one-time deal — if there was ever a low-hanging fruit, qualifying project, this would be it. But they (MEDC) disagreed.”
In reaching out to the MEDC afterward, Bosanic said the city was requested to pursue a Brownfield Authority Grant.
“So they are waiting to see if we complete the Brownfield plan,” Bosanic said. “If it’s successful, then they’ll open the door once again to applying for the Blight Elimination Grant, albeit on a much smaller scale, because it will be for that third building.”
Bosanic said those potential funds would be used to renovate the building, not to tear it down.
“The roof it literally about ready to fall in. It needs to be removed and replaced, otherwise it may be a candidate for demolition,” he said.
The Uccellos have previously stated they may be open to the idea of demolition, which would open the door to a possible outdoor seating area to the adjacent restaurant, but if funds are made available through the grant, Bosanic said the building will be renovated to rent out to a potential tenant.
“It’s still a (historical) building downtown, and they’re not making any more of them, so it would be nice keep what we have,” he said.
Bosanic stressed to members of the authority that the city is willing to work with other business owners on agreements such as Brownfield Authority Grants, if the situation calls for it.
“What about somebody else? At the end of the day, is it worthwhile to pursue this (Brownfield Authority Grant)? At about an investment of $1 million, it is,” he said.
Bosanic said if multiple small business owners pulled together and got on the same page, the city could assist in pursuing additional Brownfield Authority Grants.
“You can create a district of multiple properties, but everyone has to be moving at the same pace,” he said.
Authority member Roy LaMarte said he had concerns with the DDA losing tax revenue for the next 18 years.
“If we’re going to do that every year for 18 years, we have then, as a DDA, made a decision to defer our income to this project and the possibility of future projects like this,” he said. “We’re committing future funds to a particular project. As a DDA, we’re saying that we’re going to do this with our money.”
Bosanic said he believes the investment made by the Uccello’s warrants the agreement.
“The upside for the DDA is, they (Uccellos) are making a huge commitment,” he said. “In my 25 1/2 years here, I’ve never seen anyone invest over $1 million in our downtown, it’s unprecedented. This agreement, it’s just aggressive enough to make all parties happy.”