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MUSCATINE – In a split 4-3 decision, the Muscatine City Council voted Thursday evening to discontinue discussions to designate Merge Urban Development Group as the preferred developer for the Carver Corner Redevelopment.

During discussion council member Osmond Malcolm questioned whether the city wanted to continue looking at the one proposal for use the city received for the roughly 7-acre riverfront parcel. He questioned the request to pay $50,001 for the parcel when the city paid $500,000 for it. He also mentioned the request for the city to pay for up to 25 percent of the project cost that would build housing in the area. He was told this is just an initial proposal and the city and the developer would continue to negotiate. Both numbers were referred to as “place markers” for numbers that are yet to be determined.

“It is typical in an economic development process of this type for there to be either a reduction in land cost — frequently the land is given or sold inexpensively compared to the land acquisition price — or the long term recovery of taxes,” said community development director Jodi Royal-Goodwin.

City administrator Gregg Mandsager commented that the city match is not set and that during further talks could take many forms, including tax abatement using Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district funds.

During the vote, council members Malcolm, Kelsey Brackett, Santos Saucedo, and Nadine Brockert opposed moving ahead with discussions.

Before the vote, council member Allen Harvey commented that he is concerned the city had sent out 72 requests for proposal to developers and only one had responded. He also reminded the council members the vote was only to begin discussions on the issue.

Recently the city requested proposals from interested developers for a use for the property. Over decades, the city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase and maintain the property. When the process ended, there was only one proposal. In the request for proposals, the city asked for developer to "create an urban mixed-use project" on the site, including residential and retail space. Carver Corner is located in an Opportunity Zone, making it eligible for federal tax incentives. Tax increment financing is also available to the developer of the site. The argument was made that the development would bring about $32 million in assessed valuation, of which taxes would be shared among the city, county and school district. Additionally, local developers have expressed an interest in creating a “Peace Park” on the site.

Speaker Tom Emerick of the World Peace Village Advisory Board warned in a statement he was concerned if discussions continued, it may end up forcing the council to vote to approve the project with the developer because of the time city employees had spent working on it. He said he believes the board’s proposal is in line with the city’s comprehensive plan for the site. He had asked the motion to continue discussions be tabled for nine months to a year.

“Why rush to make this decision?” he asked. “The plans will still be there. Why rush to make such an important decision when four of the council members will be leaving at year’s end? The land will still be there.”

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