Council counts losses with prior development agreement while welcoming Total Truck Parts to Port St. Lucie

PORT ST. LUCIE – After two public hearings trying to rationalize why the city should justify a Stuart firm selling a piece of property given to it for economic development in 2007, the City Council unanimously agreed Sept. 28 to count its losses to get the LTC Ranch Industrial Park property out of long-term limbo.

The Board struggled to reach a consensus in late August on preparing an ordinance releasing White Aluminum Fabrication from a reverter clause in its contract designed to return the property to the city if the company failed to construct a 60,000-square-foot facility on the land and create 30 new jobs. Palm Beach-based Total Truck Parts had offered the firm more than $600,000 for the 6.1-acre site so it could relocate its Fort Pierce location to Port St. Lucie, but Councilwoman Stefanie Morgan staunchly resisted enabling White Aluminum to make such a profit.

“It’s a great heartache when I see a purchase and sale agreement for $630,000 for a $10 property,” she said Aug. 24. “Nothing was followed [and] nothing was done in exchange for this purchase and sale agreement that I can tell.”

When Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo also hesitated during that meeting, Mayor Gregory Oravec feared a tie vote due to the absence of Councilman John Carvelli and convinced the Board majority to simply have staff draft the proposed ordinance for the next discussion. During the latest hearing, the mayor asked City Attorney James Stokes to clarify the status on the LTC Ranch Industrial Park site.

“Given the nature of the agreement that’s in place [and] should the Council say we can’t accept this deal, what does it look like moving forward with White Aluminum?” he asked. “How do we get the property back?”

The city attorney then pointed out the severity of the problem since the original contract only triggered the reverter clause upon White Aluminum pulling a building permit and then failing to build, which the company never did.

“If this isn’t approved, we’re at a stalemate,” Mr. Stokes said. “Nothing can be done with that land until something is worked out between the city and White Aluminum.”

“So, what if White Aluminum never builds?” the mayor continued.

“If White Aluminum never builds, that land would sit vacant,” Mr. Stokes replied. “We would draw the minimal taxes, and White Aluminum would have to pay that. Unless they don’t at some point [and] it goes to tax deed, which could leave that property sitting for seven to 10 years.”

Councilman John Carvelli asked the city attorney to compare the current request with one a previous council approved for the A&G Pools property that had a similar issue.

“I believe they went through with the sale, and then we had to retroactively approve that one,” he said. “Am I correct?”

Admitting that the former council decision was made before his time, Mr. Stokes insisted that agreement did not comply with current city protocol.

“Historically a lot of things were done that maybe shouldn’t have been done or weren’t done in the right way,” he said. “That’s why we’ve presented this as an ordinance because the reverter was attached to the land with an ordinance, and you can only undo an ordinance with an ordinance. In the past, they’ve done away with these either by the former city managers just signing off on it or it being done by resolution.”

Councilman Carvelli then offered his backing of the White Aluminum request due to the precedent with A&G Pools and the fact Total Trucks has promised to create 10 new jobs and relocate its corporate headquarters to Port St. Lucie as well.

“I read the analysis on the amount of increase we’re going to receive from taxes, and I have no problem supporting it,” he said.

Councilwoman Caraballo had met with Mr. Stokes in the interim between the two meetings and now wanted to know if the current purchase and sale agreement would actually deliver what was promised in the 2007 agreement.

“White Aluminum was going to build a $2 million building, and then they’re doing $3.3 million,” she said, referring to the 46,000-square-foot facility planned by Total Trucks. “So essentially, if Total Trucks moves forward, they’re actually fixing that part of the deed in regards to the actual investment for the infrastructure that was promised on that parcel, correct?”

“That is correct,” Mr. Stokes responded. “The objective of the reverter was to get a building built.”

His conclusion cemented the councilwoman’s decision.

“I agree with the city attorney’s assessment [that] this property will not move unless something’s done,” she said. “I went back and actually read the minutes from the original change in the A&G property. The council at the time moved forward to make the changes on that property to allow it to be sold, and so there was a precedent set back then. I’m willing to move forward to ensure we’re able to create the jobs and do what the actual parcel was meant to do in the first place.”

Councilwoman Stefanie Morgan, who’d cast the lone dissenting vote Aug. 24, admitted to still having heartburn over the current request while acknowledging that White Aluminum had upped its $50,000 payment to the city for its trouble to $108,000. As part of the deal, Port St. Lucie will waive the company’s $260,000 penalty for not creating the 30 jobs as promised.

“My whole issue was having someone have a windfall on a piece of property given to them for $10,” she said. “I just want to make it clear how disappointed I am of White Aluminum taking advantage of the taxpayers of Port St. Lucie.”

Councilwoman Morgan did, however, emphasize her support of Total Trucks, which led to her ultimate approval of the request.

“I still have agita over this, but I will go with the will of the Council because I know I’m the lone one here, and I don’t want to hold up Total Trucks coming into Port St. Lucie,” she added. “As many people as I’ve talked about on this, not one person was really in support. However, they all are in support of Total Trucks because of the business a lot of them do with them.”

For her part, Vice-Mayor Shannon Martin preferred looking ahead to the Total Trucks ribbon-cutting ceremony in the future rather than at past council mistakes.

“I’m just glad we’re moving forward with this,” she said. “The bottom line is, this has all given us heartburn, but nothing will happen. We’ll be in that stalemate position: It doesn’t benefit Total Trucks [and] it doesn’t benefit the city. I want to make sure that we’re doing things that are going to help facilitate the creation of jobs… and bring money back to the city.”

Mayor Oravec agreed.

“This is one of those situations where you just have to be pragmatic,” he said. “You’ve just got to hold your nose and say, you know what, we can’t go back in time and change the agreement. How can we best serve the people of Port St. Lucie today? By welcoming Total Trucks to PSL and building a fantastic facility and adding jobs to our economy, and quite frankly, getting more out of it financially than we were before this deal.”

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