The University of North Carolina Arts & Sciences Foundation is the Town Council’s favorite bidder for the Old Chapel Hill Public Library on Franklin Street.
It seemed that everyone who squeezed into tiny Meeting Room C of the Chapel Hill Public Library on Wednesday evening had already spoken their minds about the sale of the old public library, a little more than one-and-a-half miles away on East Franklin Street.
“Is there anyone here today,” asked Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, “who wasn’t able to provide comments, orally, to the council at a previous meeting on this issue, who would like to speak today?”
That was followed several seconds of silence.
“Well, thank you very much,” the Mayor concluded, to laughter all around.
The Special Meeting of the Town Council was called to choose one of four serious bidders for the property.
By Wednesday, the contenders were actually down to just three. ArtsCenter Board of Directors Chair Jay Miller had withdrawn his $752,000 bid, the minimum-asking-price, to buy the old library for use as a non-profit hub.
Miller told the Council on Wednesday that the price had now become “prohibitive.”
The remaining applicants were The UNC Arts & Sciences Foundation; Chabad of Chapel Hill; and Chris and Ann Cox.
But first, there was another matter to discuss. There was a request from Preservation North Carolina to receive 2.5 percent of the purchase price for its work on behalf of Chapel Hill in selling the property, instead of the agreed-upon $5,000 fee.
PNC’s request for more money was based on the process taking longer, and being more complicated than anticipated.
Most Council members said it was a fair request, but Council member Matt Czajkowski said he couldn’t see how PNC merited the extra money.
Mayor Pro-Tem Sally Greene countered that real estate agents typically charge higher commissions than 2.5 percent.
“Unlike a real estate transaction, it’s not over when it’s over, here,” said Greene. “They have oversight responsibilities, and they’re going to be working with the purchaser to oversee and make sure that the renovations are consistent with the agreement. And I think it’s very reasonable what they’ve proposed.”
Kleinschmidt asked for a show of hands to see how many council members supported giving PNC 2.5 percent, and it was 7-2 in favor, with Czajkowski and Jim Ward voting no.
Then it was time to discuss the three bids, although it was really down to just two.
And one was clearly the favorite, as signaled during the opening remarks by Council member Lee Storrow:
“I guess my preference is to sell it to the UNC College of Arts & Sciences Foundation,” said Storrow. “I think they put together a strong application. I’ve been impressed with the immediate feedback we’ve received from the neighbors, and the people in close proximity.”
The meeting’s agenda packet was filled with emails and letters supporting the application from the UNC Arts & Sciences Foundation to use the old library as its headquarters.
The Foundation plans to renovate the building with two conference rooms that would be available for use by community organizations after business hours.
The offer was for $1.25 million, plus $475,000 as a payment in lieu of property taxes.
An offer from Chris and Ann Cox to pay $1.4 million for the building and make it a cultural center with rental space was mentioned only a few times in passing, although with kind words all around.
But the most serious competing bid came from Chabad of Chapel Hill, which made a purchase offer of $1.8 million. Chabad wanted to make the old library a community center with a focus on learning.
Neighbors had expressed concerns to the council regarding Chabad buying the building, based on uncertainty about what activities would take place there.
Czajkowski offered strong initial support for Chabad’s bid. He argued that it wouldn’t be the first time the Council had imposed a structure on a neighborhood that was opposed to it, citing the SECU Community House on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as a recent example.
“We agreed with the neighbors that they had valid concerns,” said Czajkowski. “Many council members said they didn’t think those concerns would materialize, but agreed that they were valid. And we therefore spent close to a year on an extremely intensive effort to create a Good Neighbor agreement.”
Czajkowski asked if a Good Neighbor Agreement between Chabad and residents of the neighborhood near the Old Public Library was possible.
Instead, the conversation turned to debate over potential financial benefits for the town.
The final revised resolution was a purchase price of $1.25 million, with an 18-month window for rezoning, and an option for a one-time payment of $475,000, not considered a portion of the purchase price, and payable at closing.
Storrow asked to include a guarantee that the Town has the right of second refusal, if the building is to be sold in the future.
The council also included a stipulation forbidding the transfer of the building to any public agency with the exception of the Town of Chapel Hill.
The resolution to recommend that PNC sell the building to the Arts & Sciences Foundation passed unanimously.