When Highland Park City Councilman David Naftzger told his colleagues Sept. 9 he wanted to take a closer look at a request by Renaissance Place’s request for more time to pay money due to the City, he may not have been intending to set off a strong reaction.
Intent or not that is what happened after a public hearing during Monday’s City Council meeting. Only one citizen spoke criticizing the plan which would double the time the shopping center’s owners have to pay approximately $710,000 to the City effectively halving the annual amount due.
“My intent was to allow time for a discussion,” Naftzger said. “That is how the process is supposed to work.” And, Council members had plenty to say Monday wanting information as well as interest if the City ultimately goes along with Renaissance.
Initially Naftzger raised the issue of Highland Park receiving interest payments on the money it would be waiting to receive. Before the public hearing started, Mayor Nancy Rotering was considering other options. “Maybe a better plan is a loan,” she said to property representative Christaine Fischer before opening the hearing. Fischer indicated that had not been done.
Only one member of the public showed up to comment. “The City should not be involved in private enterprise,” Sheldon Langer said to the Council. “Let them go to a bank.”
After the public concluded its comments, Councilman Tony Blumberg made it clear he wanted to examine the financial condition of Renaissance Place before giving final approval to the extension. He was not alone.
“I’m very sympathetic to your financial challenges,” Naftzger said. “The City and its taxpayers are not a bank. We really do need to act like a bank.” He wants to see the same kind of documentation a financial institution would require to make a loan.
Fischer told the Council the actual ownership is a holding company which included pension funds. “There are some very sensitive issues here,” she said. She also let the Council know the difference between the property taxes paid for retail space at Port Clinton Square and Renaissance Place.
“Port Clinton is currently in the $1.98 range (per square foot) and we are in the $5.81 range,” Fischer said. “It is harder to compete when we have to pass it on to our tenants.”
After the appropriate waiting period, the issue is scheduled to return to the Council for further consideration Dec. 9. At the very least the owners of the property will have to pay interest on the extension, most likely at three percent.