The city of Anniston will give an empty lot at the heart of the city’s downtown to a development company backed by former NFL player Karlos Dansby — if the company can get a hotel built on the site within three years.
The Anniston City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to enter into an agreement with Arizona-based TUF Hospitality that would give the company the lot at 1200 Noble St., where TUF plans to build a $15 million, 156-room hotel with financial backing from the NFL player.
“It’s really going to have an ability to jumpstart development in and around the entertainment district,” said TUF owner Theodore Holloway.
Holloway and Dansby approached the council in March with a plan for the city-owned site, where city officials have for years been trying to attract a developer to build a hotel. The site is close to the new federal courthouse now under construction at the former site of City Hall on Gurnee Avenue, a project that city leaders hope will bring more business downtown.
City officials had hoped to have that hotel completed well before the courthouse was. The council in 2017 agreed to hand the property over to a different developer, J2 Construction, to build a $10 million hotel on the lot — but that plan fell apart after one of J2 principals was arrest on a kidnapping charge in Mississippi. The city had to go to court to get the property back from J2.
TUF originally announced a plan to have a hotel done by the start of the World Games in Birmingham in 2021, then the pandemic pushed the games back one year, to 2022. But the city has a firm timetable for TUF if the company wants to acquire the lot.
According to the agreement council members approved Tuesday, the company has to provide the city with a schematic design by July 19. The company has to apply for construction permits by Jan. 4 and those permits approved by May 2021. The company would then have two years after permit approval to complete the hotel and obtain a certificate of occupancy. If it doesn’t meet the deadline, the property reverts to the city.
The city agreed to provide up to $50,000 in offsite improvements, plus up to $100,000 in underground utilities if needed. The contract also includes provisions for the city to allow the project tax rebates in the future.
Council members thanked Holloway and Dansby for moving forward with their hotel plan, despite the pandemic.
“In these times of low tides, it can bring a high tide of economic development,” Councilman Ben Little said.
Board members also voted to lease a parking lot at 101 East 10th Street from Alabama Power for a nominal fee of $10 — for use in hosting farmers’ markets this summer. City Manager Stephen Folks said the first farmers market will be held on June 6.
The council postponed a vote on changes to speed limits and on posting of stop signs on various local streets — changes that were discussed at the May 6 meeting — after council members brought new requests for traffic changes. In a work session, the council agreed to bring the matter back when they have a more complete list of proposed changes.
For weeks, the council has also held off on nuisance abatement votes that typically require a public hearing. Those hearings weren’t possible in the weeks after the state stay-at-home order, when the council began to meet without an audience and with only a handful of city staff present.
Folks, the city manager, opened discussion about how and when the city might return to its normal public meetings. Folks said he remains concerned about the idea of opening up public hearings to a full audience, though he said he hoped he could bring enough staff into the room to allow discussions with property owners about nuisance votes.
Councilman Jay Jenkins said the city might consider allowing the crowd in, but with seats spaced far apart.
“The reality is that every citizen of Anniston has a right to speak publicly,” he said.
Council members didn’t come up with a timetable Tuesday for a return to typical meetings. Draper said that any solution would have to take into account the fact that the pandemic isn’t over.
“We do need to be mindful that we’re still in a public health crisis,” he said.