In efforts to continue being “committed to only the best for Roswell,” the Downtown Development Authority announced on Sept. 25, to not secure a contract with the Beecham/Ardent team for Southern Skillet redevelopment.

Roswell Plaza, commonly known as "Southern Skillet" Plaza is a 4.2 acre site on Alpharetta highway.

It was previously anchored by the Southern Skillet restaurant, but has remained prominently vacant since the eatery’s closure.

“With a focus on what is best for the Roswell community, there were many factors that weighed heavily on the RDDA’s decision to conclude this process without a contract,” said a news release.

The release further detailed, “Beecham/Ardent, who have been exhaustive in their planning and design efforts, encountered significant market changes in the previous 16 months while putting this transaction together, putting tremendous economic pressure on an already tight site.”

“The Beecham/Ardent Group did go through multiple site plans that included the Skillet site only as well as an expanded site with adjacent parcels. This was an exhaustive process that considered site design, uses, and conditions by adjacent owners. The Village concept had difficulty with fitting/securing a grocer on the site due to sizing and surface parking. Beecham/Ardent then explored other options and choose to move toward a denser site,” said DDA Treasurer Dave Schmit.

According to Schmit, “the DDA ultimately rejected the site plan as it was more residential (apartments) than commercial at its core.”

“Ardent appreciates the diligence and thoughtfulness of the members of the DDA in this process. Despite our team’s extensive efforts over the past 16 months, a mutually desirable outcome could not be achieved," said Mike Guynn of The Ardent Companies.

Roswell DDA detailed that “the final concept would have required a conditional use approval for 250 multi-family apartment units, an in-crease over the current approval of 126-units approved by Mayor and City Council in 2016.”

To which the group “believes the developer’s proposal and offer do not meet the objectives, desires and best interests of the Roswell communi-ty.”

The Beecham Group was selected to move forward in April 2017.

Schmit stated then “[Beecham Group] represented the village scale better than others. The three story was a height consideration. They didn't use some of the entitlements that were granted with density and height. They were focused on single-family versus apartments.”

Beecham Group presented its take on redevelopment on April 17, what they are calling the "Market District."

“[Our design] has lesser levels and density, is village scale. It looks like Roswell because it was designed through the vision of Roswell guys,” said Rob Beecham, who recalls dining at the Southern Skillet his entire life.

The mixed-use village scale development intends to answer residents' demand for a grocery store.

Current plans include a "boutique, upscale grocery and market" in addition to contributions to "walkability" with pedestrian access along Frasier Street and parking availability.

Also at the April event, Schmit emphasized potential for unsuccessful negotiations.

“There is no guarantee with the Beecham Group,” and the DDA “would make all efforts to reach an agreement with Beecham.”

Then, according to Schmit, had that occurred the “DDA would move on to MidCity Real Estate Partners,” the firm chosen second.

Today, Schmit noted “the DDA has requested a Work Session with Mayor and City Council to discuss next steps.”

“We have a new council since we started the RFP process, so think it best to confirm the parameters for continuing the procurement,” he said.

One goal of the session is to “define a process for identifying a new de-velopment team,” according to Schmit.

While a date has yet to be set, Schmit expressed, it is “expected to be soon.”

The team emphasized its objective “remains unchanged.”

“To see this site developed in a manner that respects Roswell’s rich history and the priorities of our citizens but also increases the city’s appeal, functionality, and economy,” they said.

The Roswell Downtown Development Authority is committed to the successful catalytic re-development of the Southern Skillet Site.

“We feel the economic benefits and lifestyle enhancements will be a step further in careful, but positive business growth for Roswell’s com-munity,” said the release.

DDA emphasized in the release that “the Roswell community is our priority” and intentions to “continue our commitment to being transparent in our efforts to support our vision for the residents of Roswell.”

“We value the past, present and future and want to honor your expectations. We had hoped to be in a different place today and want to share some of the obstacles we have encountered over the past 16-months. Following an extensive redevelopment phase that considered the priorities for the site and Roswell’s future, the priorities of development were defined with engagement from the community,” said the DDA.

These priorities, such as securing a grocery tenant, seeking to expand the project with adjacent properties and minimizing the inclusion of multi-family residential, were in the forefront of our efforts. However, the effort to achieve them, along with market factors, impacted the pace and success of the project.

The DDA listed the following examples of factors that impacted the project.

● Interest by adjacent land owners engendered a strategic attempt to assemble adjacent parcels with hopes of incorporating and constructing public parking and additional retail as part of the project, was time consuming and ultimately unsuccessful. This effort, was undertaken to create a more catalytic project for Roswell, but in the end absorbed enormous effort and time.

● The grocery market, while a highly ranked desired use by the community, is in upheaval following the purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon in June 2017, just two months after the Beecham/Ardent team was selected. This uncertainty in the industry has made it much more difficult to land a grocery tenant.

● Rising construction costs continue to squeeze infill development. In addition, Family Dollar had an existing lease on the property that extended a couple more years and then offered them a five-year option to stay. Obviously, a termination of this lease had to be negotiated prior to any development agreement. That agreement was not achieved until June 7, 2018, the earliest any contract could have been signed with a developer. While we all wanted the process and project to move faster, it is important to note that in the world of infill development, this timeline is typical based on the challenges of the site and the market in which it sits.

“An important note related to calling for a final proposal related to settling the Family Dollar lease. It was terminated in June 2018 after more than a year of pursuit and negotiations. Beecham/Ardent submitted their final proposal after the settlement. With the lease now cleared, the procurement for other proposals can move forward with a more definitive schedule,” clarified Schmit.

“As always, the RDDA is dedicated to protecting the historic charm of our city. Now that we are out of the negotiation phase, we can again talk about challenges and next steps,” they said.

Neighbor News Online will continue to provide updates as details become available.

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