Public Hearing Ends In "Yes" Vote For 1200 Pole Creek Crossing Purchase
Citizens Voice Opinions At Packed Town-Hall Style Event
August 17, 2023
On Tuesday, August 8th, a special Sidney City Council session was held at the Sidney High School auditorium. The reason for the change of venue was the robust public interest over the sale of the building and property of 812 13th Avenue, known through the city as "Big Red", to Worldwide Trophy Adventures (WTA). The sale will result in a swap of properties; the 812 13th Avenue location, owned by the City of Sidney, in exchange for the WTA's current building at 1200 Pole Creek Crossing in Sidney.
WTA is offering its location, appraised at $575,000 and $150,000 in cash. Additionally, WTA will give up $275,000 of a remaining LB840 (Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act) money and the south parking lot of 812 13th Avenue, located across the street, which is valued at $92,000. That parking lot will be used for the new expansion of the KCTS (Kimball County Transit Service) covering Sidney and Cheyenne County.
Tuesday night's meeting started with a presentation by Cheyenne County's E3 group, updating the City Council on their efforts over the past year in fulfilling their mission to "develop a network of resources in Sidney and Cheyenne County to drive opportunity through sustained investments in entrepreneurship and community improvement."
After the E3 presentation was completed, the sale of 812 13th Avenue was next on the agenda. City Manager David Scott started the discussion with a brief history of the property, and how Cabela's invested a million dollars into the building back in 2015. He also explained how Cabela's and the City of Sidney secured TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Funding for the project. $547,000 is currently owed, with the City of Sidney owing $233,000 and Bass Pro Shops owing $310,000. Scott noted that the repayment of the bond does not remain with the property, but with the borrowing entity.
The building at 812 13th Avenue appraised for $1.5 million in 2017, and the next assessment saw the value drop down to $1.1 million dollars. When UST Global Corporation announced their desire to terminate their lease at the end of 2022, due to many of their workers staying in remote or home locations that started with the COVID-19 pandemic. As the company no longer needed such a large space, they wanted to terminate their lease as allowed in their contract. The motion to terminate the lease with UST Global passed 5-0 during the December 14, 2022 council meeting. WTA then approached the City of Sidney about purchasing the 812 13th Avenue property and, after some negotiations, a deal was struck that would basically swap WTA's current location at 1200 Pole Creek Crossing with 812 13th Ave. WTA will take over 812 13th Ave. and be responsible for the balance of the TIF bond, while the City of Sidney basically makes back its initial investment on the property, gets out from under the TIF bond, and gets a new facility for the Sidney Police Department at 1200 Pole Creek Crossing.
What may have seemed a relatively straightforward deal with few complexities involved became less easy to understand and complicated as questions were asked and objections were raised. Ryan Watchorn, CEO of WTA, addressed the meeting and detailed the formation and rapid growth of WTA. He explained how he and his company put everything on the line and forged ahead to grow into an entity that offers a "World-Class Life Experience". WTA has become very successful, and is one of the leading companies in the industry. That success has brought growth, and when the opportunity to move into a larger and modern location in Sidney came, Watchorn decided to move forward. Watchorn noted how certain members of the Sidney community were critical of the deal, and how personal attacks were being launched. Much of the criticism of the deal, WTA and City Manager David Scott was driven by Facebook posts. After noting that it was said that the new positions created by WTA were "worthless jobs", Watchorn said, "You attacked us, and you did it wrong. I can assure you it's now personal." Watchorn then invited WTA employees and their families in attendance to stand, and it seemed nearly half of the assembled crowd were on their feet. Watchorn then said, "When you type up your rebuttal, don't forget the faces of the people and the families that have these "worthless jobs"."
After Watchorn spoke, public comment was allowed. Speakers were allowed three minutes to voice their concerns and ask questions. One of the early citizen questions asked if WTA would go out of business if the deal was not consummated. Watchorn quickly replied, "No. We will operate out of tents if we have to." Other residents' questions concerned the valuation of the building, and how it was determined. Other concerns included the wisdom of selling the building to just one business, basically "putting all our eggs in one basket", and questioning whether or not it would be a wiser mover to separate the building out and lease space to multiple smaller companies. A highlight came when Matt Monheiser came up and said, "I should be against this deal, as Ryan is my competition. But this is a good deal for the city and people of Sidney." He detailed the holding costs, TIF issues and other obligations the city would have to fulfill, which would very likely result in a big tax increase for the city.
Carla Lutz spoke out at the meeting and brought up the idea of folding the Sidney Police Department into the Cheyenne County Sheriff's Department, noting the cost savings and potential increase in services. She noted that this has been done in other communities with positive results. She noted that it is not something for the council to take up right now, but perhaps should be thought about in the future. David Jansen, owner of the Sidney Fine Arts Center and founder of the Facebook Group "Bring Back Sidney" spoke next. He said that the entire process of this sale lacked transparency, and asked David Scott when he would be releasing all of the information on this deal. Scott replied, saying that he has been transparent and all of the information about the transaction is available for public viewing. He noted the one item that has not been disclosed is the appraisal of the property, noting that Nebraska state law does not require that information to be public until after the deal is finalized, and that he would release the information when the time was appropriate. He noted how other parties accessing that information could jeopardize current negotiations.
Jansen replied back, saying he had documents that he raised in his hand showing that Scott has been lying about details of the transaction, and that his numbers are wrong, and in some cases Scott has deceptively altered the numbers. The heated exchange ended when City Attorney Jaquelin Leef informed Jansen that his time was up. Other speakers noted concerns about appraised values being inaccurate, and how the whole deal has brought division and bad feelings among Sidney residents. Another resident asked David Scott how many other offers are there on the 812 Illinois property, to which Scott replied, "None."
Marguerite Pool addressed David Scott, saying that he has not been following up on emails and that he should not say he's responded to everything. The two started arguing back and forth about transparency and follow up on questions. She also said there has not been proper responses to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, and questioned the moving of the Sidney Police Department from a location near the Highs School and Middle School to the other side of town, further away. Scott noted the proposed new location was perfect for the Police Department, with upgraded facilities, plenty of power and modern electrical/internet upgrades, and would require very little to convert into the new home of the Police Department. Pool then noted that three minutes was not enough time to discuss these issues thoroughly, and that she felt that she had been shorted on her time.
Many other residents came forward, with some having mixed feelings about the deal, and some opposed to the deal, but most comments viewed the deal in a positive way. Council members gave closing remarks about the transaction. Burke Radcliff noted that he had heard many comments about the value of the building, but the actual value of the building is only what someone is willing to pay for it. He said nobody is going to pay $7 million for the building and it is only worth what someone will pay for it. He said that the city bought the building for around $1 million, and now has the opportunity to sell it for around $1 million, and the city will not lose money on the deal. Recently appointed council member Brock Buckner eloquently summarized the meeting by saying, "What we hear in this meeting is passion. Passion for our town and our community, and a great interest in what is happening and the long term financial health of our citizens. The turnout tonight and the passion brought forth by citizens on either side of the issue is outstanding. It's not about whether you're for or against this deal, but that so many of you took the time to come out and learn more about all this, and let your voices be heard. This just shows how strong of a community we are and that we will continue to grow and be successful, because of the passion and commitment from our citizens."
The council members voted to move forward with the purchasing of the 1200 Pole Creek Crossing property, and voted unanimously. There will be another City council meeting on August 22 at 6 p.m. at Sidney high School to discuss the sale of 812 13th Avenue. All members of the public are encouraged to attend.