That appears to be the question being asked of developer Greg Hatem by the City Council. During today's meeting, the council will vote on whether to void an existing agreement that Hatem's company, Empire Properties, has with the city do develop a city-owned piece of property across from the new convention center. The move would essentially rebid the project, forcing Empire to compete with other developers for a project it previously won. In our story today, Hatem said he would probably walk away from the project rather than bid again.
Today's vote should be good political theater for lots of reasons.
1) Hatem and Empire have been instrumental in downtown's renewal in recent years. The company has renovated dozens of buildings, filling them with cafes, restaurants and bars. After giving repeated extensions to other developers in recent years, it would be noteworthy to say the least if the city lost patience with Hatem of all people.
2) Hatem is more than just a developer in downtown Raleigh. Most of the City Council attended his wedding last month, as did a good chunk of the city's Planning Department.
3 ) Developers frequently criticize the City Council for lacking business acumen. If the council rebids the project (known as Site #4), those criticisms could get even louder. City Manager Russell Allen says Empire does not have the financing to move ahead with its plans, and has no idea where that financing will come from in the future. Hatem notes in today's article that the lending environment is terrible and that city leaders are "naive if they think there are people who are lining up that can actually do this faster and better."
Allen states clearly that if the project is rebid the city still desires a project that has a unique design and a mix of retail, restaurant, hotel rooms and condos. That sort of project has become extremely difficult to finance, particularly if a developer is trying to build on land he or she doesn't already own.
So the question becomes: In voiding Empire's agreement and starting over, is the city moving the project along or just making sure nothing will get built on that site for an even longer time?