An Update on 6th and Jackson

This week, the Moscow Urban Renewal Agency met and discussed the fate of the current development project at the corner of 6th and Jackson streets. We’re following up on our previous questions, and asking a couple more…

Read the full transcript of the video below:

Alright, we’re back on the development train.

How’s it going, y’all. Aiden Anderson here with the Moscow Minutes. Just over a month ago, we came out with a video talking about the development of the property over at the corner of 6th and Jackson, and now at last we have some updates!

The Moscow Urban Renewal Agency (URA) met the morning of March 7th to discuss the various issues related to this property. Just to clarify, the URA is a quasi-government agency responsible for promoting economic growth and community enhancement through investments in projects like this one in and around Moscow’s Urban Renewal District, which is essentially the downtown area.

Let me read from the meeting agenda to see what the meeting addressed:

“On September 14, 2023 the Agency entered into an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) with Moscow Hotel, LLC, represented by Carly Lilly and George Skandalos, for development of the property located on the southwest corner of Sixth and Jackson Streets. The agreement includes a Schedule of Performance with a series of deadlines for submittal of plans demonstrating continued progress towards developing the property. Each of the agreed upon deadlines have passed without submittal of any new information and all design efforts have stalled. Given the lack of measurable progress required in the ENA, staff is recommending termination of the ENA. This will allow the agency to pursue alternative development proposals for the property.”

So, just to recap, George and Carly were initially chosen as the exclusive developers of the property for this particular project back in 2023. This is also not the first time that they’ve attempted to develop this property, as the URA partnered with them back in 2015. During this more recent second attempt, work halted when the soil conditions proved completely unsuitable for their vision of a four-to-five story mixed use building on the land. According to them, the costs required for soil remediation would have rendered the project entirely non-viable, and alternatives within their purview, such as a smaller building, were also deemed unworkable.

URA board member Cody Riddle explained at the meeting that the URA could not provide funding for a private development project without being in violation of Idaho Code. While they could pursue other projects or grants in relation to the property, they could not do so while in an exclusive agreement with a private developer. If said agreement were to be terminated, however, it would free the URA up to explore alternatives when it came to developing the property. Whether that would be a project focused purely on soil remediation, or an agreement with another developer remains to be seen.

George Skandalos and Carly Lily were both present at the meeting, and they spoke in favor of terminating their agreement with the URA. Both made efforts to clarify their decisions as regards the steps they took when they were developing the property, in order to have, as Skandalos put it “a very accurate representation of what we have said, rather than snippets that can be taken out of context.”

According to George and Lily, many of the missed deadlines indicated in the URA’s Schedule of Performance were due to their unwillingness to put anymore sunk costs into the property when it became clear that their vision would not come to fruition. Carly in particular, spoke to the lack of detail associated with previous attempts at development on the property, and hoped that the information that they have obtained from their work this time around will allow the URA to better shape their vision for the property going forward. George later clarified that they knew something of the soil’s poor condition at the beginning of the project, but that as they began work, they found more and more unknowns associated with the soil. Carly mentioned 6 figures in expenditures related to soil examination and communications between them and the rest of their development partners, including some firms in Spokane, who, according to her, pronounced these soils as “the worst they have ever seen.”

Suffice it to say that the URA voted unanimously in favor of terminating their exclusive agreement with Carly and George, and will be exploring alternatives.

Alright, so where does that leave us? In our first video on this topic, I asked about previous knowledge of the soil’s condition when it came to George and Carly’s previous attempts at development on the property. The conversation at this meeting seems to indicate that while the developers did in fact know that they were going to be dealing with soil issues, they were caught off guard by just how bad the soil issues were, when it came to executing their particular plan. This would plausibly explain what was going on last month with the article I looked at, but again, it’s difficult to know for sure without looking at and comparing the data obtained by George and Carly during their most recent development attempt, their attempt in 2017, and the data put together from soil studies on the property back in 2013.

The other question that remains is where do we go from here? It doesn’t appear that there’s another developer waiting in the corner, ready to jump in with another ENA now that Skandalos and Co have backed off. The URA at this point is only brainstorming what the next steps will be, to be discussed at future meetings.

It seems clear that soil remediation needs to be taken care of almost regardless of whatever ends up being built at the corner of 6th and Jackson, and perhaps the URA will be able to find a means of funding that as a public or non-profit endeavor. But it seems to me that in order for soil remediation work to be done well, you need to know what you’re hoping to build on the property beforehand.

George and Carly both acknowledged this during the meeting when it came to their initial examinations of the soil. They described it as a lot of back-and-forth: “Can we build on this land?” “Well, what are you planning to build there?… etc.” If you combine that communication hassle with their previous comments about how they thought that the place had been remediated and examined so many times that it must be buildable, you start to get the idea that different projects have different soil remediation requirements.

If the next step for the URA is remediating the soil, they need to have an idea of what they want built there. But in order for that idea to make practical sense, they need to be talking to someone who will be looking to build on that property. They need to have a developer in mind. And, while I’m not sure that this is the case, such a situation strikes me as a somewhat underhanded way for the URA to maintain a relationship with a particular developer in pursuit of a particular building without being bound to the legal issues they might run into if they were under an ENA. It would still be an exclusive relationship, still keeps other developers out, just not technically so on paper. If that’s the case, what’s up with that?

So, the questions continue. I hope to get more info soon on the options for the future of this property, and the ways in which private entities like developers, quasi-government agencies like the URA, and the law all fit together. One thing to note is that the Moscow URA meetings are public, and their meeting schedule can be found on their website, which will be linked with this video. As always, if you have any questions, please reach out. This is Aiden Anderson with the Moscow Minutes. See you next time.

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