The fate of Salisbury’s old Station 16

I figured it would shake down this way: another 3-2 vote to approve – Comegys, Shields, and Smith approve while Campbell and Cohen oppose.

Tonight Salisbury City Council will discuss the question of what to do with their former downtown fire station. It’s a conundrum which would try the patience of Job, and the discussion is heated due to a number of vested interests at stake.

The city only has to consider one proposal, since a second one for the property fell through. It’s from an investor group known as Coastal Venture Properties LLC, and they are offering the city $100,000 for the property – according to land records, the building is 7,680 square feet on a piece of property roughly 2/5 of an acre, assessed for taxation purposes at just over $400,000.

Coastal Venture is planning to use the lowest floor for a restaurant, with four or five apartments above. Speaking on their behalf via a letter to the Daily Times, Bradley Gillis states the case that “(o)ur offer of $100,000 reflects only the accusation cost; we will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and completely redevelop the property into a historical, significant downtown destination.” In addition, Gillis points out, this will be a “regional self-supporting hospitality destination” and place a property back on the tax rolls.

But another group of business owners contend “(t)he buyers have failed to provide a clear picture of what they are going to do with this landmark structure.” The Local Owner Restaurant Association (LORA) objects to what they call a giveaway.

In an e-mail to supporters they claim that much of the study information used by Coastal Ventures is over thirty years old and lacks a current appraisal to reflect declining real estate values, nor have the city’s taxpayers been asked through a referendum. They suggest a better use of the property would be as “a firehouse museum, city historical site, or in the future, perhaps a part of the Eastern Shore Regional Library.” But their true objection?

We would not like to see the city of Salisbury become involved in enabling a venture group to buy a piece of property at far below its market value in order to assist that group to create a facility designed to undercut existing businesses within the city. Unfair business competition subsidized and assisted by the city cannot be tolerated by LORA, and the concept or execution of such activity should not be tolerated by any citizen of the city.

In addition, the restaurant Coastal Venture envisions would serve as a training ground for the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore’s culinary program, giving these trainees real-life experience but likely undercutting the costs incurred by LORA members. Whether that would be subsidized by the city remains to be seen, but LORA may have a case regarding unfair competition.

Complicating matters still farther is the renewed bid by Delmar blogger and political gadfly Joe Albero, who believes the property could be a office suite atop a fire museum. Purportedly he offered $250,000 cash for the building prior to the city declaring it a surplus property, but today he renewed his offer at the price of $110,000 and threatened to sue if the city accepts the Coastal Venture Properties bid. Albero already owns a building in the downtown area.

Generally I’m in favor of shifting property off the non-taxable rolls and putting it to productive private use. And while I’d prefer the price be a little bit higher and that the purchaser assumes a little bit more of the risk, they are taking some significant chances here. While LORA sees this as competition, this new venture would actually face a number of competitors already in the downtown area including Escape, Market Street Inn, Flavors, and Brew River, among others.

Unfortunately, as we saw with the Civic Center parking lot controversy earlier this year, government has a penchant to buy high and sell low. But rather than the building sit idle and use taxpayer money, on balance this is probably as good as the city will get for the property. Certainly I don’t like the idea of giving this enterprise an unfair advantage of using UMES as inexpensive labor, but on the other hand the expertise these students gain could benefit LORA members in the longer term. Meanwhile, the remining downtown restaurants will now at least have the luxury of knowing they have competition coming so they can work to improve their facilities, menus, and service.

As for Joe Albero, all he had to do was put together his proposal for consideration. I don’t think the city of Salisbury wants the building to simply go to the highest bidder – there should be a development plan and strategy for investing in the facility. Waving around a check for $110,000 or even $250,000 is great for now, but what if the building sits empty for another half-decade because his dreams of an internet empire don’t come to fruition? If there’s a more competitive arena than the restaurant business, the internet may be the one.

So we will see what happens tonight – chances are the Coastal Venture proposal will be accepted, LORA will be left fuming, and Albero will run to the nearest courtroom to plead his case. All this to divest itself of a small parcel of land with a building.

Postscript: I have been told that this deal would include a pair of city-owned lots on the river side of East Market Street. While the assessment figure is correct for the 115 South Division Street lot (Map 107, Parcel 882, 16,640 square feet with a 7,680 square foot building) it doesn’t take into account the vacant lots known as 201 South Division (Parcel 883, a 14,365 square foot lot assessed at $172,300) or 300 East Market (Parcel 884, a 4,761 square foot lot assessed at $57,100.) But the question would be whether these are buildable lots anyway given Maryland’s highly restrictive coastal regulations – for example, a 100 foot waterfront setback would render these lots essentially useless.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

9 thoughts on “The fate of Salisbury’s old Station 16”

  1. Michael,

    By law, the building as surplus property cannot simply go to the highest bidder. Check out section 2.3.6 of the municipal code. Some writer named “Rusty Shackleford” has several comments on it at Delusions of Grandeur.

  2. Michael, what you don’t have here is the same thing others have missed throughout this debacle. Included in the property is a detached lot that lies on the river. I believe the address is 301 Market St. There is a street that is presently closed to traffic that runs between the old firehouse and the lot. Another thing is, leasing the basement space to UMES as was proposed by Brad Gillis, the rent will be paid by taxpayers via UMES. So while the city is giving away a piece of commercial river front property and a structurally sound (according to city records) building, the taxpayers will still be footing the bill for UMES to lease space in the same building. Utilizing the students for events will cost them nothing, they work for grades & experience. Having no labor cost involved they could undercut every event planned for any of the venues downtown. It will cost the taxpayers less to let the building sit than it will to pay the rent on the space.

  3. No it doesn’t so I would hope the backers don’t overly use the firehouse theme. They can certainly use a historical Salisbury theme, but it’s going to be difficult to carve out their own niche even among the competition downtown.

    I’m sure some opponents call this a ‘giveaway’ because it’s $100,000 to the city for a property which could be worth many times as much. But consider that the alternative is letting the building sit empty and need upkeep until property values are back to ‘boom’ levels (which could be a decade, maybe more) and on the whole I’d rather see some local construction industry people become employed and capital invested into downtown.

    Of course, there’s the risk of failure but the status quo wasn’t doing a lot of good. I think the $200,000 or $300,000 discount the developers are getting will be paid back in a relatively short time by placing the property back on the tax rolls.

    I also have a postscript to add to the main post.

  4. Michael, I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible. It should be known that my original offer of $250,000.00 was well before they created a RFP. In fact, it was because of my offer that they came up with the RFP to assure Joe Albero couldn’t purchase the property, even as a highest bidder. They did the same thing wien they dismantled the Horse Patrol and I offered to buy the horses, if you’ll recall. I offered to buy a fire truck for $5,000.00 with a blown engine, they sold it to a dealer for $2,500.00 instead. Nevertheless, when they created the RFP I stood in front of the Mayor and Council and asked, does this sale INCLUDE the other two lots going to the river. Gary Comegys immediately said, no, are you crazy. He then, (at a different council meeting) said, I wouldn’t sell Joe a damn thing, meaning the Fire Station. Considering the other lots weren’t going with the sale and Comegys stating he wouldn’t sell me the building, there was no reason for me to move forward with a RFP to purchase a piece of property the City was refusing to sell me. Each one of my offers was with no contingency and each check could be cashed immediately. We had already known that Gillis didn’t have an agreement with UMES and that is why he exposed such the night of the meeting, we were on to him and he knew it. My challenge to sue the City is real. The taxpayers are being screwed out of a very valuable piece of property/properties. As you mentioned, I do own a building outright on the Downtown Plaza. If I purchased this property, it too, (along with 18 other properties I own in Wicomico County) would be owned outright. My original proposal, (again, before there was ever a RFP) was explained to the City Council to be an exact replica of Station 7 in Pittsville with the exception of it being an All-You-Can-Eat Seafood Restaurant. Kitchen in the basement, dining on the first floor and a bar on the upper floor. I still to this day have numerous local Doctors who would dive into investing along with me to make this a reality as partners. The restaurant would employ some 70 people and the impact economic wise on the Downtown area would be incredible, while not really competing with the other restaurants Downtown. I say that in the sense that it would not challenge their menu. So please recognize my offer as good clean business. It would not sit empty and it would go under construction immediately. I’d like to say this as well. I like Palmer Gillis and like Palmer, I’m all about getting a really good real estate deal. If he gets the property, well, I hope he does exactly what he says he’s going to do but before they even get started it has been proven his original proposal has failed and the City Council should immediately drop the deal until they see him under contracts with someone willing to do what they proposed. However, that’s not how the City of Salisbury politics works. One final comment. The City should keep the property and forget my offer or Palmer’s. Louise Smith making remarks about how the building will fall apart, PLEASE! Perhaps she should take a walk down the Plaza and look at at least a half dozen properties sitting vacant for the past ten years, there’s nothing wrong with them and if there was Code & Compliance would be all over them. Some of us bought our properties for a great price and we’re sitting on them until the real estate market has a come back. Until then, who cares if the building sits empty, that’s our problem, not theirs or anyone else’s. Since when is everyone else so worried about my investment or anyone else’s anyway. Thanks for letting me share my side of this story and Merry Christmas Michael.

  5. Well, since this is your side of the story the questions I have are thus:

    First, if you had the money and “numerous local Doctors who would dive into investing along with me to make this a reality as partners” why didn’t you come in as a silent partner in an LLC? If you had a good RFP proposal that Council then rejected it simply because you were involved, then perhaps you would have a leg to stand on in court. Now, I’m no lawyer (far from it) but it would seem to me that you couldn’t prove discrimination simply based on an out-of-context remark by one Council member. If your proposal was properly submitted and that good then Comegys gets outvoted 4-1.

    As it stands, the original proposal you outlined and the one Coastal Venture Properties presented are essentially the same aside from the usage of the upper floor (CVP proposes apartments while you propose a bar) and the exception of CVP following through the process where you did not. Your newer proposal would involve office space, which brings me to my other question.

    You claim you own almost 20 properties in Wicomico County, a couple of which I’m familiar with – besides the occasional travel by 300 W. Main, I patronize Station 7 on a semi-regular basis so that adjacent property is most familiar to me. I would hope that isn’t representative of the state of your properties as a whole, but the ones which are most ‘famous’ are unoccupied. Seems to me you could use your existing downtown building for the office space for your ‘media empire.’ (I guess you already do since some of your videos were taped there.)

    If you had a more successful record in refurbishing and getting tenants for your buildings, perhaps Council would look more favorably upon your ideas.

    As for the Station 16 property, it will obviously be up to the citizens and City Council to hold them accountable for what they do. Granted, we don’t have a very good track record but there was a process in disposing of the property and it was done by the book, unless you wish to attempt to prove otherwise in a legal venue.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours as well.

  6. Michael, By law, the building as surplus property cannot simply go to the highest bidder. Check out section 2.3.6 of the municipal code. Some writer named “Rusty Shackleford” has several comments on it at Delusions of Grandeur.

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