The River Park Macon project, a proposed multi-use development complete with condominiums/apartments, a boutique hotel, retail and a medical/office park that has been in the works for two years, went down in unnecessary flames in October. The project would’ve been a signature feature of downtown along Riverside Drive with a view of the river that runs through us but is rarely seen.
After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, the investors, including Mercer University Chancellor Kirby Godsey, discovered that 60 percent of the proposed site, including the two parcels from the city, are toxic nightmares. Though the city and the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority were required by law to disclose the toxic issues with the land, Godsey’s group, which is Renaissance on the River LLC, discovered the problems during its due diligence period and stopped the project.
A very different story was told to City Council’s Public Properties Committee on Tuesday. The presentation, by the city attorney, while indicating Godsey did not begin construction by Nov. 10 as the contract stipulated, did not mention what the city knew at the time -- that Godsey had discovered the property’s toxic issues.
The development authority that acted as the conduit between the city and Godsey’s group says it didn’t know about the toxicity, but documents reveal the city certainly knew. It was required to enter a consent order with the state Environmental Protection Division back in 2005. The outside attorney hired by then-Mayor C. Jack Ellis to negotiate that deal with the EPD was Robert Reichert.
Godsey’s plan has always included apartments, condominiums, offices and a hotel. In covenants involving the city, Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light, the city was expressly prohibited from putting any kind of residential units on the site, nor could the land be sold to anyone wanting to develop residential units without notification. If violated, the city is liable to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to those utilities and pay 30 percent of the mitigation cost to clean up the property. It’s estimated the mitigation could cost as much as $26 million.
It’s hard to figure a motive here. At worst it’s a case of extreme incompetence. Reichert, who has been mayor since 2007, knew or should have known all the intimate details of the consent order with the state EPD. After all, he negotiated and signed it. And as mayor, he signed the covenant agreements with the utility companies in 2009. He was also a key advocate to move Central Services to make way for Godsey’s project that he had to know violated the consent order and the covenant agreements.
At best, Reichert has thrown a friend, along with his friend’s money, time and effort, under the back wheels of a bus. They now lie there in a heap along with hopes of a signature downtown project that would have done more for the area than the Second Street Corridor could have imagined.