With certificate funding out, what’s next in Avon?
AVON — With voters rejecting financing the purchase of the Skier Building through certificate of participation bonds, the question now turns to the purchase contract itself.
In a deal that’s set to expire in February, Starwood — the building’s owner — and the town of Avon have negotiated a purchase price of $3.2 million, with council members wanting the building for the purposes of relocating town hall there. While voters have said they don’t want that $3.2 million to come from certificate of participation bonds, that doesn’t mean Starwood’s offer is off the table.
On Tuesday, the town will discuss what to do with that offer.
Mayor Jennie Fancher said she started receiving emails not long after the voting results came in from people expressing strong feelings toward not making the Skier Building purchase at all, regardless of the method by which it would be bought. In November, as council voted to send the issue to a special election, Fancher said she saw a “no” vote in Tuesday’s election equaling a “no” vote on purchasing the building altogether.
“While technically it’s two separate issues between buying the building and financing the building, it’s one in the same,” she said Nov. 18.
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“And I still stand by that statement,” she said Wednesday. Regardless, “I don’t see there being four votes to go against public opinion,” she added.
The vote totals, 418 against and 229 in favor of the financing, send a strong message to the town, says Avon voter Bobby Bank.
“I turned my ballot in on the day it was sent out, checked ‘no’ and then drew a circle around it,” he said. “I really wanted my voice to be heard on this one.”
Avon resident Dave Strandjord, who started the referendum to put the issue to a vote, said he knew there were plenty of residents in Avon like Bank, who wanted to be heard.
“The public needs a voice when we’re talking about this kind of money,” he said.
Now voters like Strandjord, who opposed the financing decision, are turning their focus toward what to do if another method of purchase moves forward, like a general obligation bond or a cash payment. Strandjord attended a tour of the Skier Building on Oct. 28 where Town Manager Virginia Egger suggested cash could be used to purchase the building; Egger could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. While council member Buz Reynolds declined to comment on Wednesday, at the Nov. 18 meeting Reynolds asked the town’s finance director, Scott Wright, about other methods of purchase, leading referendum supporters like former Avon councilman Peter Buckley to suspect that effort could come next from the council.
“Technically we could flat-out buy the building … the building itself can be purchased if we needed to?” Reynolds asked Wright Nov. 18.
“Technically, that’s correct,” Wright said. “But I want to make this clear, I would not recommend paying cash. That is not my recommendation.”
Buckley said if an effort moves forward to purchase the building in cash, then he will seek a recall of any council members who vote for it.
“We’re very serious about this,” he said.
BACK TO ‘07
Reynolds has been an outspoken proponent of the Skier Building purchase since it was first brought in front of the public at the council’s Sept. 23 meeting, saying it meets the objectives of Avon’s 2007 West Town Center Development District Investment plan, which states that the existing town hall is too small for the current town needs.
Council member Matt Gennett, who voted against the Skier Building purchase, said the 2007 plan called for town hall to be moved to the west side of the Recreation Center, closer to the park, and not on the pedestrian mall where the Skier Building sits. At the council’s most recent meeting on Jan. 13, Avon resident Mark Kogan also referenced the 2007 plan, saying it called for the new town hall building to include commercial, retail, office, civic uses, affordable housing and market-rate housing.
“I would like to know what in (the Skier Building) will be encompassed of those uses,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Jake Wolf responded by asking how, in a plan that’s been around since 2007, the town has come this far without more input from residents like Kogan.
“I would have thought, in reading Mark’s emails, this guy’s pretty savvy,” Wolf said Jan. 13, referencing the billions of dollars of real estate transactions Kogan has been involved in throughout his career. “Why was this guy not at the table for this town when we were making this agreement for this building in the first place?”
Wolf said in moving forward now, there is an opportunity for the town to take advantage of the expertise of residents like Kogan and come up with a plan for Avon’s future that’s agreeable to everyone.
“I really just hope that this is an opportunity for more of the community to be involved, more of the time,” she said.