The McIntyreJuly 29, 2019
During my unsuccessful 2013 Portsmouth City Council bid, an unimpressed resident asked at a candidate forum why he should care that I am a former army officer or a combat veteran. He then shrugged his shoulders when I responded that I have experience making difficult decisions in the face of adversity. While no City Council decisions are anywhere near the gravity of life or death, you may not have noticed from the passions in favor of Wednesday's vote on the Revisit McIntyre petition and against the potential vote on August 12 to submit a binding application with Redgate-Kane to the National Park Service (NPS) to receive the McIntyre Federal Building from the General Services Administration (GSA).
Due to his Vietnam War acne deferral and his vote authorizing the Iraq War, the one person I never thought I would be publicly apologizing for is former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg. In 2004, Gregg secured passage of Section 408 of Public Law 108-199 that required the GSA to convey the McIntyre to the city of Portsmouth after it purchased land and constructed a new federal building at the Pease International Tradeport. Unintentionally or not, Gregg has misled the public into believing his law promised Portsmouth the McIntyre because after the GSA purchased 11.6 acres and explored several building designs, no building was constructed due to the GSA lacking the authority to force relocate the McIntyre's tenants to Pease, meaning that under Gregg's own law the city would not acquire the downtown property. However, the NPS's Historic Monument Program allows for the acquisition of the 2.1-acre property as long as the character of the 1966 building is protected and in her July 23 letter, the GSA's Assistant Regional Counsel made clear that even under the GSA's Negotiated Sale Authority, the McIntyre could not be demolished due to the National Historic Preservation Act.
Under the Historic Monument Program, the previous City Council considered developing the property ourselves at taxpayer expense, allowing a private entity to develop the property at their own expense in accordance with our zoning, or partner with a private developer to develop the property at their expense in accordance with our stipulations. At the time, Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine and I appeared to be the only two city councilors who favored developing the property at taxpayer expense and he maintained that the city should create their own concept before considering a development partner. As a City Council, we decided to search for a development partner to help conduct the public input process to see what concepts would be economically feasible on the property. Out of the eight developers that showed interest, only four presented at a City Council work session in September of 2017. Winn Companies was my favorite due to their desire to use a combination of grants and credits to create much needed affordable housing, however, Winn was one of several developers that chose not to submit their concept to be considered by the City Council in late December of 2017.
I motioned for Redgate-Kane at that December meeting after defeating a similar motion for one of the other two developers that submitted concepts to be considered. The Redgate-Kane partnership had the most impressive record regarding energy efficiency and I wanted to ‘take a risk' to see what was feasible if we neither turned the McIntyre into a hotel nor built out the property as much as zoning would allow. After a lengthy public input process, Redgate-Kane produced an economically feasible compromise that will not include a hotel, includes far more open space than our zoning requires, and will produce some tax revenue. I would have preferred more modern looking buildings that were narrower, taller, and larger overall to be more energy efficient, allow for wider outdoor pedestrian walkways, and provide even more square footage for the indoor public plaza's local vendor kiosks. However, not only does the Redgate-Kane concept include at no taxpayer expense Portsmouth's first proposed year-round indoor public plaza, a beer garden by the current loading docks, and a living wall; the very design may change after receiving input from our land use boards.
In saying I wanted to "take a risk" with Redgate-Kane back in December of 2017, I explained that a group of residents might oppose whatever concept we selected, they could cause the application to fail, and then a private developer would likely turn the McIntyre into a hotel and fully max out the remainder of the property. This Wednesday's public hearing will be on Revisit McIntyre's petition to essentially restart the public input process with Revisit McIntyre to create a concept prior to selecting a development model just as Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine suggested back in 2017. Revisit McIntyre's priorities are more parking, an outdoor park, and the post office remaining in their current location. The Foundry Place Garage demonstrates Portsmouth's lack of a parking problem and with 72 percent of Portsmouth's total greenhouse gas emissions coming from vehicles, I cannot support encouraging more vehicles downtown. Further, with Prescott Park & Strawbery Banke nearby and the Bridge Street Park & Worth Lot Plaza in the works, my strong preference is for an indoor public plaza over an outdoor park that could not be used year round and would likely not generate the revenue for McIntyre upkeep as required by the Historic Monument Program. Finally, the City Council has worked with our Congressional delegation on the post office returning and I am unaware of any additional successes that Revisit McIntyre has made to that end.
I may not relate to the deep passions against the Redgate-Kane proposal, but I am looking forward to listening to the public on Wednesday night who signed the Revisit McIntyre petition wanting to see a different McIntyre compromise. However, a significant amount of time, energy, and money has gone into the Revisit McIntyre effort, yet to my knowledge, no leader from the organization has ever reached out to me to meet since their formation in January. Further, I do not believe they have held public comment sessions to solidify their concept nor have they produced any information showing their concept would be economically feasible under the Historic Monument Program, demonstrating that the City Council was correct in 2017 to partner with a developer prior to the public input process. Instead, their posters across storefronts, post office box mailers, and Portsmouth Herald inserts mostly just attack the Redgate-Kane proposal and the current City Council, leading me to believe that Revisit McIntyre itself is a political action committee (PAC) conducting a lengthy public relations campaign as a precursor to the upcoming City Council elections for which the filing period opens on Aug. 19. Case in point is "Portwalk 2.0" being the first words across the top of their recent newspaper insert given that "Portwalk" was the rallying cry of Portsmouth Now! during the 2013 City Council elections.
City councilors are elected to act in the best interest of all residents and not to simply vote how residents want them to during times of adversity. I truly do hope that on Wednesday night, the organizers of Revisit McIntyre show compelling information that their concept is feasible and that I am incorrect about them simply being a 2019 City Council election PAC. If it is the latter, I am always more than willing to discuss my experiences running for City Council with any person interested in running. Just as a reminder, spending money on attack ads like Revisit McIntyre's recent newspaper inserts are a violation of Portsmouth's 2013 civility policy for city of Portsmouth candidates.