It seems like such a long time ago when BTW wrote it's first article discussing the additional request for funding or TIF made by the owners of Aquia Towne Center, Mosaic Realty Corp. For those who aren't familiar, the basic rundown of the issue is that the aforementioned Mosaic asked for a tax incentive of 6.25 million dollars way back in 2015 to help get the rebuild of ATC off the ground. This request was approved by the Board of Supervisors (more on that in a minute.) Time passed, complications ensued and then back in June, Mosaic increased that request to 18.25 million dollars. The additional funds were purported to be necessary to bring a reluctant Harris-Teeter grocery store to the undeveloped property. There is more, a lot more, but most of it doesn't really matter anymore for one simple reason....Mosaic has withdrawn it's request for additional funding.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting today, it was announced that Mosaic is no longer seeking the additional 12 million dollars it asked for to bring Harris-Teeter to ATC. It is unclear at this time if Harris-Teeter pulled out of the deal or how the developer will proceed with the property. It's possible that for some sort of new deal is being worked out, we just have no way of knowing just yet. The Board of Supervisors has declined to elaborate due to the confidential nature of the negotiations with Mosaic. BTW has gotten some reports from Aquia Harbour residents that some changes have been made to the property over the last month or so, namely the removal of a cement blockade, a chain link fence and some tractors. The chain link fence was replaced with some orange plastic fencing that has been installed strictly for safety purposes and is not permanent. But none of this indicates what might be in store for the long empty lot.
(Image taken from FLS article, photo by Peter Cihelka)
The representatives from Mosaic, Eron Sodie and Issac Pretter, have made it pretty clear that if this deal did not go through, that they have no backup plan to get anything in the center. During my conversation with these gentlemen in June, they did admit that they would consider selling the property if a motivated buyer came their way. They also indicated that they had "other fish to fry" and may not be very inclined to invest more resources into the project. It seems wholly unlikely that Mosaic will simply sit on the land for all eternity and allow it to remain a pile of rubble, a plan which makes them exactly zero dollars. What ultimately will happen to the property is anyone's guess at this point.
One thing to keep in mind is that some of the variables that may have contributed to the structure of the deal have changed. There is a Rite-Aid in ATC and it has a very long, exceptionally low rent lease, something approaching 20 years. At the time I spoke with the Mosaic executives, there was no reason to believe that Rite-Aid would go anywhere, which caused some problems. Most grocery stores want a very profitable pharmacy in their buildings but Rite-Aid had an exclusive pharmacy deal at ATC. This was a major contributor to the difficulty in getting HT to commit initially.
Rite-Aid had been in negotiations to merge with Walgreen's since 2015 but recently, that deal fell through. Now, Walgreen's is going to purchase half of Rite-Aid's stores while Rite-Aid will be closing some of their less profitable stores. The public doesn't yet know which stores will become Walgreens, which ones will close and which ones will remain as they are. It is possible that the Rite-Aid in ATC could close or be converted into a Walgreen's, which may change the development possibilities for the center.
I imagine that there will be some angry AH residents when they hear this news. These folks have had to pass the ugly pile of rubble as they went about their daily lives for ten years. These long suffering residents have been promised over and over again, first by the original developers and now by Mosaic, that they would get a wonderful place to shop...if they just waited a little longer. I would be angry with these developers if I lived there and honestly, I am angry anyway because a retail development with different options benefits the entire county, not just AH. I don't think that a developer worth his salt should need millions of taxpayer dollars in incentives to make that happen, especially in a very wealthy county like Stafford and in such a viable location. Of course, if we get word that there is a new deal in the works between HT and Mosaic, one that doesn't need any further tax incentive, then that is definitely a win/win.
Some may say that without interference from the community, spurred on by blog posts like this, the deal would have gone through and we might be watching the buildings go up right now. After all, that is how the first deal with Mosaic was struck: absent from any agenda, with no public knowledge, comments or consent, approved behind closed doors. This isn't really the way we want our BoS to conduct business though, is it? Don't we want to have a say in how our taxpayer dollars are spent? Doesn't the BoS owe it to us to explain their dealings, isn't that really part of their job? I don't know about you but I sure think we need to do everything in our power to make sure deals like that never happen again. That is part of the reason that this blog exists, to bring transparency to our local government processes and to hold our local elected officials accountable for their actions.
Hopefully, we will hear soon from Mosaic about their plans for the property. Hopefully, those plans will not include another ten years of rubble at ATC. What would you like to see happen at ATC?