Two Evansville City Council members, Jonathan Weaver (D-At Large) and Missy Mosby (D-2nd Ward) have asked for the resignation of Redevelopment Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave following her proposal at Tuesday’s meeting regarding a city owned parking lot next to the McCurdy Building. Musgrave contends Weaver and Mosby misinterpreted her comments and took them out of context. However, Weaver and Mosby allege Musgrave’s proposal violates state statute.
The controversy stems from Musgrave’s proposal to ‘deed over’ the city owned parking lot next to the McCurdy building to the historic building’s owners, The Kunkel Group. The parking lot was purchased by the city nearly a decade ago for $600,000 under Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel.
The Kunkel Group plans on renovating the building into more than 100 apartments with construction expected to start in the coming weeks. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Redevelopment Commission voted to extend a 50 year license agreement on the parking lot which would allow the Kunkel Group to use it. The Kunkel Group needs the available spaces in order to fulfill a requirement from their lender.
After the license agreement passed unanimously, Musgrave offered her opinion on the future of the parking lot.
“I would like the board to consider — at the time that the project is completed to our satisfaction — that we deed over the parking lot to the owner of the McCurdy,” Musgrave said. “During my 10 years as [county] assessor and having to work with the assessments on downtown properties, I learned then that one of the reasons downtown has not progressed perhaps the way we’d like to have seen it today is the sheer multiplicity of the owners of the lots along Main Street and the adjacent corridors.”
Musgrave likened the situation to the Victory Theatre and the Ford Center property when it was occupied by the Executive Inn.
Later in the day on Tuesday, when reading Musgrave’s notes on the meeting, Councilman Weaver alleged that ‘deeding over’ the property would be in violation of state statute.
“If the ERC would have followed your suggestion, the city would have been sued because we would have violated state statute. By asking them to deed city owned property to the developer, you are breaking the law,” Weaver said to Musgrave in an email obtained by Eyewitness News. “Are you asking the council body to support your idea? Your appointment to the ERC has been a huge disappointment and a roadblock for the community. I would recommend that you would step down from your appointment.”
According to Indiana Code 36-7-14-22, a municipality is required to seek two independent appraisals of a property it intends to sell. The average of the appraisal is then advertised and put out for public bid. The intent of the law is to prevent collusion.
“The city cannot just give a piece of property to another entity unless its in the vein of affordable housing and it’s to a not-for-profit,” said Kelley Coures, the executive director of the Department of Metropolitan Development.”
On Wednesday morning, Councilwoman Mosby echoed Weaver’s sentiments. Citing the culmination of an at times contentious couple of months with Musgrave on the ERC, Mosby also asked for Musgrave to resign. Musgrave was appointed to the ERC by the City Council. Mosby and Weaver voted against her appointment.
“I just feel that if you’re going to represent the city council, you should represent us for the truth,” Mosby said. “There’s just been so much that’s been very untruthful. It’s not fair to the city council and it’s definitely not fair to the citizens of Evansville.”
Musgrave argues that Mosby and Weaver misinterpreted her comments and took them out of context. She insists that she was not advocating for the city to violate state law.
“The proper thing to do would have been [Weaver and Mosby] to give me a call and say ‘what did you mean by that?’ I never received that call,” Musgrave said. “My hope was that the ownership would be same because I know what problems this causes and has caused for the development of our beloved downtown Evansville.”
Fellow council members Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley, Connie Robinson and Al Lindsey released a joint statement in support of Musgrave.
“If we removed everyone from a board or commission who wasn’t an attorney and who made a practical suggestion without navigating statutory authority, we wouldn’t have anyone left to serve,” the trio said in a prepared statement.
Musgrave tells Eyewitness News that she has no intention to resign.
The $600,000 slab of concrete is likely worth more these days, especially with a potentially re-developed McCurdy building and other developments downtown, Coures said. Plus, with the uncertainty surrounding the vacant Riverhouse Hotel next door, Coures believes it’s only rational that the city retain ownership of the parking lot which gives the city flexibility.
“What would happen if Kunkel wasn’t the highest bidder? It would be in the hands of a third party. The McCurdy as an entity wouldn’t have sufficient parking,” Coures said. “It would be a mess. We’d be back at square one.”
Coures also added that if the Kunkel Group were to lose those parking spaces, it could be in violation of rules set forth by the Area Plan Commission. However, Musgrave disagrees with Coures’ assessment of the situation. She believes it will aid in future development by making the property lines easier to understand.
“What benefit is it to the city to continue ownership of this lot? Why aren’t we allowing the private sector to invest and move forward’ Musgrave said.