By Kevin Kelley
The approval process that would bring American Greetings’ headquarters to Westlake is now under way across multiple political bodies in Westlake.
In May, the greeting card company
announced plans to move its corporate headquarters – and approximately 1,000 jobs – from Brooklyn to Westlake’s Crocker Park.
At City Council’s July 21 meeting, an ordinance authorizing the city to issue up to $43 million in bonds related to the company’s move was placed on first reading. The bonds would pay for infrastructure improvements, such as streets, sidewalks, sewers and traffic lights. Under this tax increment financing structure, the bonds will be paid for with payments from American Greetings will make in lieu of property taxes.
A nearly identical ordinance authorizing the city to issue the same amount of money in notes was also introduced July 21. Council President Michael Killeen said the question is whether it will be financially more advantageous to initially borrow the money by issuing notes instead of bonds. The decision will probably be made in September, Killeen said. Whichever ordinance is not ultimately used will then be intentionally defeated to remove it from Council’s agenda.
Another ordinance establishing a tax increment financing fund was also introduced. Killeen said he wants all the legislation related to the financing of the American Greetings move to be considered at the same time. Killeen will ask an attorney the city has hired who specialized in tax increment finances to be on hand at Council’s Sept. 1 meeting to answer any question on the legislation. Council is on summer recess during August.
An ordinance that would rezone a small section in the southwest corner of the Promenade shopping center from shopping center district to planned unit development was placed on second reading at Council’s July 21 meeting. The section of land, which is behind the western wing of the Promenade, is being rezoned so duplex town homes can be built there. Some land in Crocker Park originally earmarked for town homes will be used for the new American Greetings buildings. The rezoning will allow the western section of town homes in Crocker Park to extend slightly into the Promenade property, which will be legally transferred to The Coral Company. A public hearing on this rezoning has been scheduled prior to City Council’s Sept. 1 meeting.
The Westlake Board of Education must also approve elements of the tax increment financing arrangement. Under the proposal, the school district would receive the property tax revenue it would have received had development continued at its current pace without the relocation by American Greetings. At any rate, the district would receive at least $455,000 annually over the 30 years of the agreement.
At the July 18 Westlake Board of Education meeting, school board members heard from attorney Bill Gagliano, of the law firm Ulmer & Berne, on the tax increment financing proposal.
Gagliano said negotiations are taking place between the district and the city on the matter, with discussions centering on financial matters related to Crocker Park’s plans for a hotel. The hotel was not part of Crocker Park’s original plans, the attorney noted.
Gagliano said it’s possible the district could end up getting some income tax revenue as part of the deal. The city has argued that payroll tax revenue is already committed to other funds, he reported. Talks are continuing, Gagliano said.
“The standard is that you negotiate,” the attorney said.
School board President Tom Mays said he would like the district to receive some financial protections due to the length – 30 years – of the tax increment financing agreement. He also speculated that once American Greetings moves to Westlake, some of its employees may move to the city to be closer to their workplace. This would result in a potential increase in school enrollment, he said, resulting in additional costs for the district.
Meanwhile, Crocker Park’s revised predevelopment plan is pending before the city’s Planning Commission. The plan describes the size and layout of buildings that will house American Greetings’ new headquarters. During the July 11 meeting, at which the plan was introduced, several residents from nearby streets expressed concerns that Crocker Park’s expansion will cause traffic problems and adversely affect their properties. The plan is on the agenda for the commission’s Aug. 15 meeting.