St. Cloud City Council members postponed the decision on the sale of nearly 200 acres of land along Canoe Creek Road after two of the three developers bidding for the property changed their proposals at the last minute.
Deputy City Manager Veronica Miller opened the Stevens Plantation Dependent Special District meeting Thursday night with the recommendation from staff that the council select St. Cloud-based Gentry Land Company, with financing partner Equity Investments, as the winning bidder.
The JV proposal had the city’s desired mix of residential and commercial uses, but it offered the lowest combined purchase price of $6.125M for the land – in one case by over $1 million. Miller said the primary reason staff recommended the bid was because it allowed for the quickest closing. The city wants to close the sale by March 2020 to avoid paying a $200,000 tax bill.
But the concern over the closing date was actually based on a misunderstanding by the other bidders. Miller explained that the property is currently zoned for Mixed Use and has an approved Concept Plan, which the new developer would need to update.
The confusion set in because the other finalists, Titan Properties and Avex Homes/Avalon Park Group, both indicated in their offer letters that they would seek a Planned Unit Development, which would require a rezoning and delay the closing.
“The projects themselves are all quite similar,” Miller said. “Our recommendation was strictly based on the closing date.”
During the meeting, executives from both companies confirmed that they could proceed without the PUD rezoning and close on roughly the same schedule as Equity. Avex President Erik Marks said his bid shouldn’t be eliminated because of a misunderstanding.
“I think what you should do is pick the best offer,” he said. “We’re offering $900,000 more, and the fact that we put the word PUD in our LOI when there’s no PUD required seems to have shifted this whole process.”
Marks said his team redesigned its entire conceptual plan, based on feedback from council, to incorporate the mixed-use component they were asking for. The new design would be more reminiscent of the developer’s Avalon Park community, which employed Traditional Neighborhood Design concepts.
He committed to replicating the mixed-use commercial buildings the company has successfully built before along the Canoe Creek frontage, and he offered to enter into a Public Private Partnership with the city on the construction and leaseback of a new public safety complex “as a way to kick-start your public safety needs.”
Titan Properties also completely redesigned its bubble plan after the Oct. 2 meeting with council, and it offered the highest combined purchase price of $7.25 million. Principal Dell Avery said the single-family residential portion would include 243 units divided among four different product types.
It was unclear whether national multifamily developer, Alliance Residential, was still involved in the deal. The revised plan sets aside 16 acres for multifamily and/or assisted living and designates two areas for commercial development on Canoe Creek and on Budinger Avenue, just south of St. Cloud Middle School, for a combined 7.3 acres.
“We have less commercial, but we also have a senior living component,” Avery said. “We felt that would serve the community better than more commercial.”
Titan’s LOI provided the city with an option to retain 16 acres in the southeast corner of the site for a Public Safety Complex. In that case, the purchase price would be reduced to $6.05 million.
With the question of a quick closing no longer in doubt, council members suddenly had more options to consider. Councilwoman Lynette Matheny urged her colleagues not to rush a decision simply because they want to avoid a $200,000 tax bill – especially if the two higher bids would more than make up the difference.
“I feel like all three groups are highly capable of performing on this project,” Councilman Keith Trace said. “When you look at the differences, each developer focused on their strength. So we have to ask ourselves do we want the highest price? Or do we want to the Public Safety Complex, or do we want the highest amount of non-residential uses?”
Miller said they could defer the vote until Nov. 21 and still bring the contract to City Council on Dec. 5, which keeps them on schedule to make the March deadline. She directed each bidder to submit their final revisions to the city attorney on Monday.