Airport terminal developer Edgemoor returned to the City Council Tuesday with a sweetened package of community benefits, but it remained uncertain whether a majority of lawmakers can be convinced that the company is the right partner for the billion-dollar project.
The council voted 9-4 in December to reject the first version of a memorandum of understanding with the Maryland-based company. The MOU is an initial agreement moving the project toward the beginning of construction.
On Tuesday the firm came back with a revised proposal that it said addressed 43 of 45 issues raised by council members. These include more funding for apprenticeship programs to help low-income workers enter the construction trades, and provisions for workforce housing and other economic development initiatives in the Northland.
Edgemoor officials said that the changes raised the total value of the community benefits from $24 million to $28.7 million.
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The company also agreed to reduce a reimbursement provision that had drawn rejections from several members. Under the original proposal, Edgemoor was to be paid up to $30 million in out-of-pocket costs if the project collapsed under certain circumstances. In return, the city would receive any designs or other work product from the company.
That maximum amount is reduced to $23 million under the new proposal. The money would come from aviation department revenues, not tax funds.
Council members had few questions for company representatives after their presentation. But it was unclear Tuesday afternoon whether there were more than four or perhaps five votes on the 13-member council in favor of going forward with Edgemoor. A proposed ordinance to approve the new agreement will go to the council’s airport committee on Thursday.
Asked about the absence of objections from council members, Mayor Sly James said: “That doesn’t mean they’re not going to come back Thursday with a whole bunch of stuff. This has been a totally unpredictable situation.”
At present the proposed ordinance has five sponsors: James and council members Katheryn Shields, Jolie Justus, Jermaine Reed and Quinton Lucas.
Other council members remain uncommitted for various reasons. While the city is not a party to negotiations underway between Edgemoor and construction trade unions on a “harmony agreement,” issues on the bargaining table are casting a shadow over the council’s consideration of the MOU.
Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Wagner and possibly other members wants to see Edgemoor reach an accord with construction trades that would require all workers at the site to be union members.
Others support the company’s position that it can’t meet its commitments on minority hiring under an all-union arrangement. They are said to include Councilwoman Alissia Canady, who did not respond to phone or text messages.
Councilman Dan Fowler, who represents Northland’s Second District, had been pushing for the addition of community benefits for that area. But it’s not clear whether their inclusion in the revised pact would be enough to push Fowler, who did not return phone messages, into the “yes” column.
Councilman Kevin McManus, who along with Fowler is considered by Edgemoor backers to be one of the more “persuadable” members, said he still had concerns about the company’s ability to deliver in a finished airport terminal on time and at the agreed upon price.
“That’s the core issue,” he said.
The project’s time line has yet to be impacted by the council debate. Financial closing is scheduled for September, and completion of construction by November 2021. But further delay could begin to push that schedule back.