The push to revive downtown Lancaster’s West Main Street corridor is intensifying but got a bit murky Tuesday when government officials went behind closed doors to discuss legal issues that could play into a proposed offer to buy the nearly 5-acre site.
The Village Board and Community Development Corp., or CDC, which owns the land including the former Board of Cooperative Educational Services complex, met jointly in an executive session for 20 minutes.
Although they did not specify any details of the “legal issues,” it appeared to be about an $845,000 purchase offer in early August by Mark S. Aquino, the agency’s longtime legal counsel and former property manager, and potential conflicts of interest that could arise because of his relationship with the agency.
Village Trustee Dawn M. Robinson generally mentioned that she is concerned about some conflicts of interest.
Village Attorney Arthur A. Herdzik recommended an executive session.
Agency board members said they have not yet been told by Aquino of any specific proposal for the site that once was a bustling hub of various shops about 30 years ago and is struggling to make a comeback amid a fairly steady stream of new tenants coming into the complex in the last several months.
Aquino did not attend the work session and could not be reached to comment Tuesday night.
But Matthew J. Walter, an agency board member and town councilman, later said eight people are in Aquino’s group that is forming a limited liability company, or LLC, and are behind the purchase offer.
A competing proposal earlier this month came in the same day as Aquino’s.
The other proposal is from Lancaster-based Stampede Capital Partners, calling for an extensive $30 million multiphase project of mixed-use residential and retail to complement an entertainment district with an all-season pavilion for the area – mirroring the successful Power & Light District in Kansas City, Mo.
Government officials Tuesday did not reveal what they might prefer, but some in Village Hall earlier this month said the Stampede Square idea was the most promising project offered in a string of letdowns for the property, which has a challenging and awkward configuration. It dead-ends at a 20-foot drop-off to a lower level, where the BOCES complex is located and a Save-A-Lot grocery store.
The property, owned by the economic development agency, has failed to attract a formidable development plan for years until earlier this month.
Stampede Capital officials attended the meeting but did not comment.
But it was clear that the CDC board does not plan to make a decision when it meets next Wednesday.
Instead, it plans to share a list of its criteria for the site with both parties.
“It’s a way to establish fair and clear parameters,” said Robert L. Dimmig, a CDC board member.
Even so, others said that while they want to keep their new tenants at the site, they don’t want to miss out on a long-overdue opportunity to do the right thing for a business district that is in need of a jump-start.
“We have to do some unusual things to make this project happen as fast as possible, but still do it right,” said John L. Chmarney, head of the Lancaster Area Chamber of Commerce and an agency board member.
“A vetting process needs to take place,” Robinson said.
Deputy Mayor Kenneth L. O’Brien III agreed. He was adamant that something happen and said the village is willing to lend support toward paying for some of a needed demolition of a 19,000-square-foot concrete foundation left over from the BOCES complex that would make it more developer-friendly.
The village is applying for a $250,000 state grant to cover the cost of that work.
“You don’t want a developer to walk away,” O’Brien told the CDC board. “We want to assist, but the village cannot financially support that area.”