GREENVILLE — Eight months after the effort was proposed, additional financial assistance may come to fruition for Flo’s Pizzeria Ristorante & Sports Bar.
Just not immediately.
During Tuesday’s Greenville Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting, Jared Belka, legal representation for restaurant owners and brothers Dan and Davide Uccello, brought forth a proposal for a brownfield grant with a goal that the DDA move forward in accepting it.
After more than an hour and a half of discussion, the DDA adjourned without voting on the grant, but scheduled a special meeting on Jan. 24 to give members two weeks to evaluate the proposal further before reaching a decision.
The grant would provide the Uccellos with $140,000 in revenue collected from tax increment financing (TIF) on the property located at 107 S. Lafayette St.
Based on Belka’s proposal, the DDA, which already operates in an established TIF district, would forego 50 percent of future revenue on the property from 2017 through 2041, amounting to an average of $5,833 per year over the 24-year period.
A 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.
The Uccellos estimate the $140,000 in brownfield work is derived from $20,000 for baseline environmental assessment activities, $80,000 for the demolition of the building, $20,000 for lead and asbestos abatement and $20,000 for brownfield plan amendment/work plan preparation and development.
In discussing the topic Tuesday, the DDA expressed mixed opinions on the grant and the prospect of delivering future TIF revenue to a private business.
According to City Manager George Bosanic, the issue boils down to whether the DDA can afford to give up the future revenue while weighing the benefit of assisting a local business that recently made a large investment in the downtown district.
Bosanic said when the Uccellos made their investment of more than $1.5 million in purchasing and renovating the vacant buildings, they did so with a hope that they would receive a blight elimination grant through the Michigan Economic Development Corp (MEDC) in the amount of $240,000.
But that grant was denied in the fall of 2015.
The Uccellos then pursued other means of grant funding to make up for the shortfall, and at the suggestion of the MEDC, worked with the city to draft the brownfield grant.
However, Bosanic said upon proposing the grant to the MEDC, the city and the Uccellos were again met with resistance.
Bosanic said through the brownfield grant, the city was aiming to collect future revenues from the state school aid fund, splitting those revenues 50-50 with the Uccellos. That proposal would have seen the DDA provide TIF revenues to the Uccellos for approximately nine years, as $56,000 of the $140,000 would have been derived from future revenues out of the state school aid fund.
However, the MEDC would only include that resource if the DDA was willing to release 100 percent of those TIF revenues — as opposed to 50 percent — to the Uccellos.
“The state gets to make that decision whether they want to add to the value of this plan by committing future state aid funds to the plan,” Bosanic said. “When we proposed this to the MEDC, we did get some positive feedback that in fact, they were supportive of it, but that lasted about 10 days. They came back and decided ultimately that they want the DDA to commit 100 percent of future TIF captures to this.”
Bosanic said due to debt payment obligations toward the Lafayette Street streetscape that occurred in 2002, the DDA is not in a position to release 100 percent of TIF resources.
That project cost approximately $5.5 million, though the DDA received about $1.2 million in grants for the project. The remaining $4.3 million was paid for through development bonds sold by the DDA, which continue to be paid off.
The DDA has seven years remaining on the current TIF district, of which the majority of the resources are used to pay off the remaining debt.
Despite the MEDC’s decision not to include future TIF revenue from the state school aid fund, the Uccellos decided to continue forward with a 50-50 plan with the DDA to obtain the $140,000 in funds.
“We’re left with a local-only plan option,” Belka said. “The developer has received lost promises along the way, and unfortunately that does impact their financing of the project, so this is an important ask of Davide and Dan. It’s been an exciting project for Dan and Davide. They would love to do more in the downtown. I know they’ve talked to George about potential additional plans for the downtown, and can hopefully set aside the past process to do it in a more timely manner.”
Via conference call, DDA member Roy LaMarte said he had concerns with the proposal and placed his focus on other business owners in the downtown district.
LaMarte pointed to the six building owners who, combined with private investments and grant funding, will be investing more than $1 million in facade improvements this spring.
“We have half a dozen building owners who are investing this year, two or three last year, putting significant investments into the downtown area,” he said. “I appreciate the $1 million-plus investment (from the Uccellos), but how do we as a DDA justify paying you (Uccellos) back something for your investment when we are offering nothing to those people who are also making a $ 1 million-plus investment in downtown Greenville?”
LaMarte said he felt the DDA was “being brought in through the back door,” as far as being asked to help finance a portion of the Uccellos’ efforts through TIF resources.
“I’m just not comfortable with a long-term investment and no continued plan going forward for future development, we’re shooting at the hip,” he said. “If this project fails, then I can only assume that the future buildings that they purchased are probably not going to be developed, renovated, or saved. They could become a huge eyesore, a drain on the downtown economy. I don’t see where I would want to support that. I’m not trying to be a jerk about this, I’m just seriously looking at it as an investment return.”
The Uccello brothers have purchased additional property in the downtown district, including Huch’s Fine Jewelry, the former Springrove Variety Store and Vaping Sensations.
Belka said the return on the investment currently stands in the form of the restaurant that has been operating since May.
“In terms of the return on your investment, having a viable operating business, I would suggest, is the No. 1 return on this investment,” he said. “Assuming this is a successful venture and continues to be … the goal would be to continue redevelopment. I think we would be here talking to you again in terms of how we can continue that redevelopment with those other buildings, but obviously, that has to be done in a calculated matter. But that is the long-term goal, to return a vibrant downtown.”
DDA Chairman David Ralph said he shared LaMarte’s concerns about assisting other business owners but said that shouldn’t take away from the importance of assisting the Uccellos after they invested so much into the downtown district.
“Whether that business succeeds or does not, does not erase the fact that we have fully improved buildings, that without these improvements, may have been at risk of going away entirely,” he said. “I think there’s plenty to consider in all of this. If nothing else, I share a very strong concern for making sure we dig deep in making sure we find ways to help at other levels, at a smaller scale, for people who are doing this and have been doing this with their own dollars … we’ve got to pay attention to what we can do for other people.”
According to Bosanic and Belka, in this situation, with the previous blight elimination grant having fallen through and historical grants not available, the brownfield grant is the last remaining option for the Uccellos to receive financial assistance.
“It’s an investment for the future,” Bosanic said. “What we are saying is, here’s 50 percent … hopefully (that would) help them sustain that business so we (the DDA) too can continue to get 50 percent, because they are still there, still making pizzas and doing good business.”