The competition to replace the Mobile Civic Center took a bizarre turn Wednesday night when one of the two finalists withdrew from consideration, leaving a plan already facing grumbling from Mardi Gras organizations and the downtown entertainment district as the only choice.
Mobile Civic Center Redevelopment Partners, LLC, which has been referred to as the Stirling Group, wrote a letter to CBRE Senior Vice President David Fullington informing him of the group’s decision to leave the competition and explaining why. CBRE, a commercial real estate services and investment firm, was tapped by Mayor Sandy Stimpson to oversee the process of developing proposals for a public-private partnership for redevelopment of the ‘60s-era Civic Center. Stirling Properties Vice President William Barrios signed the letter (see document below).
“Unfortunately, despite our sincere desire to be a part of the redevelopment of this site, we feel that the project objectives and scope have fundamentally moved beyond what we contemplated when we decided to pursue this project,” Barrios wrote. “Further, we believe that our competitor responded in a radically different way than we did to the Request for Proposal, making comparisons of proposals challenging to say the least.”
More specifically, Barrios said a July 15 presentation by CBRE to the City Council revealed the financial details of Stirling’s plan, but the same types of numbers were not presented for the other finalist, Cordish Companies.
“Our view is that the RFP required this level of disclosure, but we understand that the competing team did not make a similarly detailed proposal,” Barrios wrote.
Barrios said his team, which consisted of 17 local, regional and national companies, put together a plan responsive to the Request for Proposal that included a new multi-purpose arena. The Cordish plan does not include an arena.
“As reflected in our proposal, we envisioned that this 22-acre tract would be anchored by a modern multi-functional 7,500-seat events center that would be a community asset — accommodating an array of indoor sporting events, concerts, stage performances and, of course, our beloved Mardi Gras celebrations,” he wrote.
So far in the process, Stimpson and members of the City Council have visited other developments built and managed by Cordish, but have not done likewise for any of the properties run by the Stirling group. Barrios wrote that it seemed clear the mayor and CBRE were in favor of the Cordish plan.
“In summary, our response was simply that we believe an events center of some scale is necessary to activate this part of downtown Mobile and to achieve all the City’s objectives. The movement away from the civic center facility was underscored by the presentation that CBRE made to the City Council on July 15th,” he wrote. “It seemed clear that the Mayor and CBRE favored a competing proposal that did not include an events center but did have a commercial outdoor entertainment district product.”
The question of how the process will move forward is still up in the air, but issues with the Cordish plan that includes themed restaurants and an outdoors facility are already cropping up. On social media, downtown restaurateurs have expressed concerns about the city moving to bring in more competition to an already-crowded food scene, while Mardi Gras groups have already written to the mayor in favor of the Stirling plan that includes a venue for carnival balls. Having two politically powerful groups not in favor of the Cordish plan would seem to present difficulties moving it forward.
City spokesman George Talbot said in a statement that the mayor’s office would like the process to remain competitive.
“The Civic Center represents a major development opportunity and our goal is to find a world-class partner who can deliver a winning plan for our citizens,” he wrote. “We appreciate Stirling’s interest in Mobile and we are disappointed they chose to withdraw. While we cannot compel companies to compete, we are committed to an open and fair competition. The process will continue and we remain confident that we will find a winning bidder who shares our bold vision for this transformational project.”
When pressed, Talbot said the administration is still eyeing a council vote on the redevelopment plans for September.
However, the Stirling plan faced its own obstacles — most prominently that the city would need to provide $66 million in funding for the new arena. Council Vice President Levon Manzie has also expressed opposition to having residential spaces included in any project, which Stirling’s had.
As of Thursday morning, Stimpson’s office had not commented on this new development. Lagniappe will update this story as additional information becomes available.MCC_Withdrawal_Letter_July2019
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).