ROCKINGHAM — The winning bid of $756,331 from the Oakboro-based Carpenter Construction Company for the demolition and construction of the Steele building in downtown Rockingham was approved by city council members at Tuesday’s monthly meeting at City Hall.
Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris and City Council members took this action despite being more than $280,000 short of having the necessary funds for the project.
In January, the Cole Foundation presented the city of Rockingham with a $475,000 grant to be used for the demolition of the Steele building on Washington Street across from Discovery Place KIDS and the construction of a new facility that will be part restaurant and part assembly area for visiting kids to eat their lunches.
City Manager Monty Crump said that bids were anticipated to be in the $579,000 to $600,000 range, but the city took the lowest bid from Carpenter Construction and approved it which they’re allowed to do with public projects.
The bid from Carpenter was originally for $952,907, but after Crump, City Planner John Massey and J.F. Hatem, the architect from WHN Architects in charge of the project, identified value engineering items, the overall project costs were reduced without affecting the quality of the new building.
“I’m comfortable with the bid recommendation,” said Crump.
Even after the price was reduced by almost $200,000, there was still an amount of $281,331 needed to meet the cost requirement of the project.
Crump said that city funds could be used for the extra amount as well as talking with the Cole Foundation and other foundations to get the amount reduced even further.
Morris agreed that getting the price reduced through foundations or other private funds is the preferred option, but the city has a fund balance in place as a “Plan B.”
“We did not get additional money from other sources,” said Morris. “It will not hurt us financially if we have to pick up the rest of the that amount.”
The fund balance is a savings account set aside from loans repaid with interest from other local businesses in Rockingham. Henry’s Cafe, Hudson Brothers Deli and Alonzo’s, a former restaurant in downtown Rockingham, were used as examples of local businesses that were granted loans from the city and repaid back with interest.
“A lot of banks would be envious,” said Crump.
“Most businesses need economic help,” said Councilman Gene Willard. “It’s difficult to get started up.”
Morris said that if the fund balance is used, there will be no tax increases for residents of Rockingham.
“That fund is sitting there for situations like this,” said Morris.
All of the council members agreed that the Steele building project is worth the investment.
“It’s a good project,” said Crump. “It will provide an amenity for school kids in Richmond County.”
“We had to have a place for kids to eat their lunches,” said councilman Bennett Deane III. “It just makes sense.”
Deane also said that it’s not unheard of for the city to offer incentives to businesses like this.
“There’s been no money lost,” said Deane.
Crump added that it’s common not only in Rockingham but all over the United States for local governments to provide loans to help local businesses.
Added Crump, “With 50,000 visitors so far, it will be nice to have another amenity right across the street (from Discovery Place KIDS). It will bring folks downtown.”