NORTH ADAMS - Although the city's $881,488 MassWorks Infrastructure Grant has yet to be released by Gov. Deval Patrick, the Redevelopment Authority is still preparing to move forward with lease negotiations for Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
The three-member board appointed Williamstown Attorney Jay Sabin, of Parese, Sabin, Smith & Gold LLP, as its legal counsel for upcoming negotiations with North Adams Development Trust (NADT) during its Monday night meeting.
Sabin's appointment, which was unanimously approved by the board, was recommended by Mayor Richard J. Alcombright.
"I think all three [board members], as members of the Planning Board, are familiar with Mr. Sabin's work, especially on the Walmart project," the mayor said. "I think Jay is a very talented attorney and that the city would be very fortunate to have him digging into this very complex matter."
Chairman Paul Hopkins, along with board members Michael Leary and Kyle Hanlon, concurred, saying they were familiar with Sabin's abilities from the numerous times he has appeared before the Planning Board for his clients.
The only questions about Sabin being hired as special counsel for the Redevelopment Authority came from City Councilor John Barrett III, who has voiced his objection to the privatization of the park on numerous occasions.
Alcombright responded that City Solicitor John DeRosa, who is a principal in the Partnership For North Adams, which has ties to NADT, would not be used for several reasons.
"We want to be certain that we avoid the appearance of impropriety. We want every thing done above board," the mayor said. " In the past, the Redevelopment Authority has used Attorney Phil Grandchamp to represent it. There is historical precedence for issues like this. It's not a city issue anymore and we want to keep them separate."
Leary added that DeRosa had stated at previous meetings that he would not represent the board and that a private attorney would need to be secured.
Barrett then questioned if the board members had met with the principals of NADT, or had ever approved the proposal from the developer. He also wondered how the award of the lease could continue to move forward when the Request For Proposals for the lease set specific timelines for work to be completed -- dates that had already passed.
Hopkins said that while he did not have the date of the board's acceptance of the proposal from NADT, the board had approved it in 2012. He also questioned why the board would meet with the NADT prior to entering negotiations.
Alcombright said he believed the specific timelines were in the NADT proposal, not the city's RFP.
According to the proposal, which was accepted by the Redevelopment Authority in June 19, 2012, NADT would make an initial down payment of $750,000 and invest $1.3 million to $1.5 million in the park in exchange for a 20-year lease agreement. As part of the proposal, NADT would secure private investors in the park, while the city would secure public funding - which came in the form of the MassWorks Grant. Approval from the state Dept. of Conservation and Recreation is also required.
"This isn't happening without the MassWorks grant," Alcombright said. "Since our last meeting in November, we've come a long way, but gone nowhere. I'm comfortable in saying that I believe our MassWorks grant will come through, but I have no idea when. I have called everyone and the governor is still reviewing the grants. I can say that we do have the necessary dollar commitment on the private sector side."