Evers and City/CHEDA officials can’t seem to get on the same page when it comes to what needs to happen in order to move forward
Although developer Jeff Evers modified his proposal for a financing package to help him redevelop the historic Fournet Building he purchased in downtown Crookston last year, City of Crookston and CHEDA officials tell the Times what hasn’t changed since Evers’ initial proposal is his apparent unwillingness to provide, up front, details on his finances. Without that financial documentation to vet, City and CHEDA officials tell the Times that they are not compelled to seriously consider Evers’ request for financing.
Therefore, a possible joint meeting between the Crookston City Council and CHEDA Board of Directors that Mayor Wayne Melbye suggested last week should maybe take place early next week is now very unlikely to occur. Evers told the mayor and city council last week that he had family commitments for a couple weeks during mid-September, so the plan was for Melbye and CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth to work out the logistics for a joint meeting of the city council and CHEDA Board on Sept. 11 or 12.
But, Melbye and Hoiseth told the Times Thursday, Evers still has not provided the information on his finances that Hoiseth said he’s continued to request, so there’s no pressing need to schedule a joint meeting.
In an interview via email Thursday, Evers told the Times that if the City would give him the loan, he “would be more than happy to provide any personal information the City wants.”
Melbye said that’s now it works when a business or developer comes to the City or CHEDA with a request for any type of financing. “That’s backwards,” the mayor told the Times. “You wouldn’t be able to buy a car from a dealer and take it home and then come back later with your financial information.
“That’s what I told Shannon (City Administrator Shannon Stassen). These guys (the council and CHEDA Board) wanted more information and we didn’t get more information,” Melbye continued. “It’s all in Jeff’s court.”
The mayor said he spoke with Evers Thursday morning and Evers indicated to him that he “thought he had everything in.” But other than his requested financing package, Melbye said, Evers has provided none of the requested personal financial documentation necessary for his request to be seriously considered. “So as far as I’m concerned, there’s no need to have a meeting,” the mayor said. “I talked to Craig to make sure he’d talked to Jeff. Craig said there was nothing new forthcoming, so I said as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing new to hash over.”
Evers is a developer with several properties in downtown Crookston and elsewhere. He purchased the Fournet Building in 2016 with plans to eventually find a tenant for the commercial space on the first floor, and renovate the second and third floors, with the latter featuring skylights that wowed hundreds of people who subsequently took public tours of the iconic building.
Necessary to make Evers’ plans fly financially was an anchor tenant to provide revenue, so he reached a tentative deal with Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, headquartered across the street and looking for a more financially feasible home, to become an anchor tenant on the second floor. Tri-Valley CEO Jason Carlson and the Tri-Valley Board said earlier this year that they’d make the move if Evers got all of his financing in place within six months.
Evers subsequently met with the council’s Ways and Means Committee to lay out his vision in general terms, and told them he’d be returning soon with a detailed financing request.
At the heart of Evers’ initial request was a gift and/or grant from the City and/or CHEDA of approximately $290,000. He also sought the establishment of a 20-year tax-increment financing district. He would invest a significant amount of his own money in the multi-phase project and provide space for various community and/or City or CHEDA meetings in some of the renovated space, free of charge. Evers detailed his plans and his financing request in a document at a CHEDA Board meeting several months ago, and the board, with several city council members as members, gave it a very chilly reception. Given the council presence on the CHEDA Board and their negative reaction to Evers’ request, it never went before the council.
So Evers retooled his request for a City “incentive” and brought what he termed his “final” offer to the Ways and Means Committee last week. Gone was the “grant” from his first proposal and in its place was a $500,000 first-phase loan that would go toward second floor work, an elevator, and the skylights of the Fournet. A second $250,000 loan in 2018 would target the first and third floors. Evers asked to make no payments on the loans for 20 years, which would carry 1 percent interest over that time. Over that 20 years, he said, virtually all of his revenue would pay off his primary bank loans, which could total $1.7 million. Over the final 10 years of his City loan, Evers proposed to pay it off in full, at 3 percent interest. He figured his payments would total just over $1 million. His request for a TIF District remained in his second request.
Last week, council members seemed receptive to the thought of a joint meeting of the council and CHEDA Board, but At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud said the meeting would have to be accompanied by Evers’ willingness to provide the requested, necessary financial documentation.
Evers told the Times Thursday this is the “most frustrating process” he’s ever experienced in his business dealings. He said he was genuinely encouraged last week when Melbye suggested the joint meeting, and now he’s being told it won’t be happening.
“I’m asking the City for a loan for a building just like I ask my bank for a loan; my bank looks at the numbers on the building and decides if they want to loan against it, just like I think the City should do,” Evers said. “But it seems impossible to get that question answered, yes or no, on the loan, but it’s a very simple question to me.”
If the City or CHEDA would provide him a clear-cut “no” on his request, Evers said he could deal with that and move on. But the process, he feels, is letting the community down.
“This system with the City and CHEDA isn’t working and I wonder how many people have had this experience in Crookston,” he said.
His redevelopment of the Fournet building would provide a major economic boost to downtown and the community as a whole, Evers said, adding that if the building was located in another town, a project would likely get done. “I had heard Crookston really didn’t want to lose the building and wanted something to happen,” he said. “Well, wake up, because the person who can make it happen is here trying to get it done and is just about given up.”
Evers said the public is tired “of all the talk” and wants action. He said he was first told it was very likely he’d be able to get the “incentive” he needed, but then “everyone changes their tune.”
The way the City and CHEDA go about their business is “broken,” Evers continued.
“Maybe in time the City and CHEDA will open their eyes to what they could have had and try not to screw it up the next time something like this comes around by someone else,” he said.