In a Renaissance Cooperative Committee (RCC) meeting held Thursday night, March 28, 2013 at McGirt-Horton Library, RCC leadership and staff from the Fund for Democratic Communities (F4DC) led a discussion among 30 community members concerning the RCC’s position on the pending decision of the Greensboro City Council about the future use and ownership of the Renaissance Shopping Center. This meeting and discussion were necessary because both developer groups with proposals before the City had indicated their willingness to include the RCC Cooperative Grocery Store in their development plans. Furthermore, the developer that proposed to buy the Center from the City was willing to match the coop rent arrangements that the RCC had proposed to the City in February.
Represented in the meeting were members and officers from Citizens for Environmental and Economic Justice, Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro, Woodmere Park Neighborhood Association, Claremont Courts, and other residents with a stake in the success of the coop from across the city. Following a statement of the purpose of the meeting and agreements on ground rules for the discussion, a dialogue was held to examine the City’s policy choices, the pros and cons of each policy, and finally to make a decision on which of five potential strategies we would select.
The City’s policy decision is whether:
- The City will retain ownership of the Renaissance Center as a public trust for a period of time until a democratically governed public entity representative of the community could purchase the center and operate it for the benefit of the community, or
- The City will sell the Renaissance Center to a private developer.
In both scenarios, the Center would be renovated and a range of tenants would be sought.
The five strategic choices for the RCC were:
- a) To decide that we would only want to build the coop grocery store under condition (1), where the city retains ownership until it can sell to the community,
- b) To decide that we would only want to build the store under condition (2), where the center would be owned by a private developer,
- c) Express strong preference for building the coop grocery store under condition (1) but remain open to still building it under condition (2) if the City chooses to sell the Center,
- d) Express strong preference for building the coop under condition (2) with the city selling it to a developer, but maintain a willingness to build it even if the City chooses to retain ownership, and finally,
- e) To communicate no preference and let the City move forward to its decision.
After a good discussion where all the voices in the room were invited to participate in thinking this through together, a vote was taken on the five choices above. The final vote was 5 people favored Option (a) and 17 people favored Option (c). There were no votes favoring any of the other options. (To avoid confusion and any appearance of impropriety, members of F4DC staff did not vote, although many are members of the RCC as well and will democratically participate as members of the grocery store coop when it is established.)
On the basis of this discussion and vote, members of the RCC would like to communicate to the developers working on this project, the City Council, and the community at large that the RCC strongly prefers that the City retain ownership of the Renaissance Shopping Center, treating the whole as a public trust, for a period long enough to allow development of a democratically governed community group with the capacity to take ownership as a land trust, CDC, or other appropriate community-owned entity. We expect this will take 4 to 10 years.
There are several reasons the RCC strongly prefers that the City retain ownership over the next several years, including:
- A vastly greater chance that a democratically governed community group would have the chance to eventually purchase and control the Renaissance Center, and leverage it as an asset and resource in ongoing community development efforts.
- A greater diversity of business ownership across the tenants at the Center.
- Our belief that the City might be a more supportive landlord, for two reasons:
- The City has a strong public policy interest in the success of the coop, both because of its general interest in strong communities and its own (expected) investment in the coop. In contrast, we were concerned that a private developer with a previously stated interest in operating its own store might have an in-built conflict of interest with the coop’s success, knowing they could replace the coop with their own store.
- The City is different from other landlords because there are expectations of public accountability backed up by mechanisms to hold it accountable to the community. In contrast, there are no such accountability mechanisms for a private landlord.
While we are stating our strong preference for the City’s continued ownership of the Center—for all the reasons named above—we want to be clear how appreciative we are of the offers and assurances made by the private developer that is seeking to own the Center. If, even after considering our preferences and reasoning, the Council were to decide to sell the Center to the private developer, then the RCC would be able and willing to work in good faith with that developer if certain conditions were met: specifically, if the City built into the Terms of Sale requirements that to some extent mimic key terms in the RCC’s 2-26-13 proposal to the City, including:
- The private developer must renovate the entire Renaissance Center to “vanilla box” standard and maintain the Center in good working order, including all structural features, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, exterior lighting, security, parking lot – the usual things that are considered in the concept of “good working order”—as the private developer agreed to do in our 3-21-13 meeting.
- The private developer must lease 15,000 square feet of space within the renovated Renaissance Center to the RCC, specifically the footprint of the former Winn-Dixie, unless the RCC requests to be released from such an obligation or fails to meet reasonably sized and timed benchmarks in its progress toward opening a grocery store, as the private developer agreed to do in our 3-21-13 meeting with them. Such benchmarks and related timetable would be developed by the RCC and City staff before the Terms of Sale were finalized, and would include adequate time and flexibility to give every reasonable and appropriate chance for the coop to succeed at opening a grocery store,
- The private developer must consult and coordinate renovations with the RCC and its architects during the design and construction phases to ensure that the renovation is efficient, minimizes grocery store upfit costs, and optimizes the design of the grocery store and associated space.
- The private developer must abide by the same rent arrangements outlined in the RCC’s 2-26-13 proposal to the City, as they offered to do in our 3-21-13 meeting with them.
- The private developer must not lease or otherwise provide space to any other business that would compete with the grocery store, without the RCC’s permission.
- The private developer must give the RCC “right of first refusal” if they decide to sell the Center, as they agreed to do in our 3-21-13 meeting.
The City Council of Greensboro has some hard decisions to make about the Renaissance Center, as well as how it is going to relate to the RCC coop grocery as its own business entity. We note that, whichever decision the Council makes, the RCC is requesting Council to provide support for the coop, as detailed in our 2-26-13 proposal.
We appreciate that so many Council members have shown a willingness to listen to the concerns of the community and to take this community-based economic development effort seriously. For our part, we stand ready to live up to our part of the bargain, including doing all the fundraising, learning, and community organizing we need to do to launch and operate a grocery store in the next 12 to 18 months. Finally, we remain committed to doing so in an open, democratic, and transparent way—it’s the coop way!