In a recent Mayoral Candidate Forum, Mayor Chirico on at least seven occasions mentioned the need to “respect the process,” including in response to a question regarding how he feels about moving forward on the proposed 5th Avenue Development.
We agree, “respect(ing) the process” is essential, particularly in government, where citizens elect people to represent them. Deviating from established processes or best practices can raise reasonable questions on the motivation for not following those processes or practices.
At the March 1, 2016 City Council meeting, Council approved the sale of four surplus pieces of property. At that meeting, it was clear there was a “process” for the sale of land:
As Ms. Emery noted, the parcels had been appraised, and were ready to begin the bid process, but “I don’t know what those bids would be, because we haven’t opened the bid process.” Bill Novak, Director of Transportation, Engineering and Development, mentions “we can go through the process, we can open the bids…” So more than one City staff member references the “process” of getting bids after an appraisal had been received on the parcels of land.
Bids on a land sale is standard practice in business. For individuals as well. We can’t imagine many people selling their house, or even their car, based upon an appraisal and not a competitive sale process. It seems logical the City process includes competitive bids as well.
The process seems to work. At the June 5, 2018 meeting, City Council approved the sale of 8.2 acres of surplus land at 540 Frontenac Road. City documents indicate “The subject property was dually (sic) posted for sale, and…(sold) for $2,150,000 which is higher than the appraised value of $1,900,000.”
The bid process in that case resulted in a sale price 13% higher than the appraisal. So why would a competitive bid process not be followed on the proposed 5th Avenue project, a sale or lease of over 13 acres of prime, city owned land, near downtown, the Historic District, and established neighborhoods?
Mayor Chirico apparently doesn’t understand how the process would apply to 5th Avenue. At the August 28, 2017 City Council meeting, the Mayor asked, once the project is defined, “…what are they competing for?”
If a competitive bid process after an appraisal makes sense for the sale of vacant land, how would it not make sense for a large, complex project, once that project is defined? The proposed 5th Avenue project consists of 13+ acres of City owned land being the basis for a development project with several five and six story structures and a cost of possibly $300 million.
Recall how this project started:
· The City issued a Request for Qualifications (“RFQ”) for developers of a possible 5th Avenue project. The RFQ process stated that up to three developers could be selected.
· A committee of ten (“The Committee”) were chosen by Mayor Chirico to review the RFQ’s. The Committee included four members of the Naperville Development Partnership (“NDP”).
· The Committee signed non-disclosure agreements, met in private, and unanimously selected Ryan Companies (“Ryan Co.”) as the sole developer to proceed with.
· Jim McDonald, the lead for Ryan Co. on the 5th Ave project is also a member of the NDP.
Mayor Chirico and City Manager Doug Krieger, neither one on The Committee, are also members of the NDP. More than 90%, or over $900,000 for 2019, of NDP funding is from the City of Naperville.
In October of 2018, the City approved hiring a consultant to act as an “advocate” for the City. While we agree that the City could use outside expertise on the project, including determining the value of bids received, the contract with the “advocate” makes clear that a competitive bid process is not envisioned, as the contract includes “…creation of the development agreement and business terms with Ryan Companies for the comprehensive development and the associated public improvements for the Redevelopment.” Pretty clear the intent is proceeding with Ryan Co. on a no-bid, non competitive process.
So, if the City proceeds on that basis we, the residents and the officials we elected to represent us, will never know if we obtained the best project or best economic terms available. For our land, and our tax dollars.
So the developer from NDP is selected behind closed doors, by a committee chosen by the mayor, for a non-competitive process, on a project involving what is apparently the largest transfer of publicly-owned land in Naperville history.
The non-competitive process seems contrary to the City’s process for the sale of surplus land, and contrary to best practices used in business and by most people.
How is that in the best interests of the City and its residents, and consistent with “the process” previously used on land sales?
What was that again, about “respect the process?”