The battered, oft-derided former Redding police station, complete with a collapsing roof and a recent past as a heroin den for vagrants, suddenly became the belle of the ball Tuesday at the Redding City Council meeting.
The first suitor to ask for the brick building’s hand was Equity Streams, a Redding firm interested in buying the building for $650,000 and turning it into an incubator for startups and developing a small restaurant or brewery where the patrol cars used to park.
But prior to considering whether to OK a nonbinding letter of intent with Equity Streams, council members learned that a second admirer, the philanthropic McConnell Foundation, swept in on Tuesday afternoon with a competing offer.
City Manager Kurt Starman advised the council it could continue consideration of the Equity Streams offer or table it for two weeks and take up both offers at the Nov. 15 meeting. He said city staff has not had time to analyze McConnell’s offer, which he said arrived “a little late in the game.”
Redding attorney Mike Ashby, speaking on behalf of the McConnell Foundation, said his client had made a cash offer that included a $25,000 deposit. Equity Stream’s offer featured a $5,000 deposit. Both bidders agreed to buy the building “as is,” Starman said.
“We’re not in the position to get into a bidding war with the McConnell Foundation,” admitted Eric Hiatt, a managing partner with Equity Streams. “We feel like that would be a poor fiscal decision on our part.”
Hiatt said his firm was excited about its vision for the former police station, namely transforming it into a co-working space to launch startup businesses and pair with a brewery and coffee shop that would feature indoor and outdoor seating.
Ashby said he could appreciate the city’s irritation with the last-minute nature of McConnell’s offer. The foundation has been interested in the building for a year or more, he said, but it had always been in connection with McConnell’s ongoing negotiations with Union Pacific. (Those negotiations concern a potential land swap that would free up the UP railyard property west of the railroad tracks and north of Yuba Street.)
The Equity Streams offer forced McConnell’s hand, Ashby said, and it realized “if we want it, we have to buy it.” Ashby encouraged the council to table the matter for two weeks and give city staff time to analyze what he termed a “far superior” offer.
Hiatt, who also is the director of the Shasta Angel Group for Entrepreneurs (SAGE), said his firm has several contacts with the Shasta Venture Hub that would help the downtown project to quickly become a thriving operation.
Equity Streams has a lot of projects pending, inside and outside the city, Hiatt said. “We need a decision … we’re really looking for an answer.”
Councilwoman Kristen Schreder said she would prefer to take up both offers in a closed session. It’s “not good” to discuss terms and negotiate real estate transactions from the dais, she said.
The council voted 4-0 to consider the offers in closed session at its Nov. 15 meeting. Vice Mayor Brent Weaver recused himself from the discussion, citing a conflict of interest since he owns and develops property in downtown Redding.
Bell Rooms Redux
Weaver also recused himself from a discussion on a related matter involving the prospective sale of two city-owned parking lots to the Redding Area Bus Authority (RABA). Both lots are across California Street from the former police station and are part of a planned expansion by RABA to meet future public transit needs.
RABA has agreed to pay $340,000 for the two parcels and the council approved the transaction at its June 20 meeting, with the agreement stipulating that escrow would close by Aug. 22. Starman said that deadline was not met due to unanticipated delays by the city and the title company.
The new agreement, with a Nov. 30 escrow deadline, has already been approved by the RABA board of directors. Approval by the city council will not be so simple.
At issue is a third parcel that RABA owns that is currently home to the Bell Rooms building, a 108-year-old former brothel that has been the focus of preservationists—led by the Shasta Historical Society and the Shasta County Arts Council—who want RABA to give the building a year’s reprieve. The group believes the historic building could become a key feature of a downtown cultural district and it wants time to investigate options.
Sue Lang addressed the council on behalf of the Bell Rooms committee and asked that the sale be delayed a year. The recently completed draft of the Downtown Transportation Plan does not show any need for additional parking in the area, she said, and work on the more comprehensive Downtown Specific Plan is just starting.
Councilman Gary Cadd, who had the issue pulled from the consent calendar, said he envisioned a more vibrant downtown once vehicle traffic is restored to parts of Market, Butte and Yuba streets and he favors hanging on to the two parcels for the time being.
Cadd got support from Schreder, who said RABA doesn’t even have the funds to complete its expansion plans “and we owe the community the chance to look at other things. Cadd’s motion to block the sale was met with “no” votes from Mayor Missy McArthur and Councilwoman Francie Sullivan for a 2-2 tie.
McArthur’s motion to approve the sale agreement also stalled at 2-2, with Schreder and Cadd voting no. The council agreed to table the matter for two weeks while City Attorney Barry DeWalt researches various California code provisions that might allow Weaver to cast a tie-breaking vote.