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WILL RENOVATION GET A LAST CHANCE?

Four members of the City Council want Mayor George Stewart to put plans for Academy Square on hold to give a Texas developer time to prove that his renovation plans for the historic block are viable.

Fred Lucas, of Austin, Texas, presented preliminary plans three weeks ago to renovate at least three of Academy Square's four buildings. He estimates the buildings can be renovated for between $10 million and $12 million. However, Lucas wants six months to finalize the proposal and secure financing.The city signed an agreement in June with Georgetown Development Co. that calls for the buildings to be demolished and the facade of the main building to be rebuilt with the original brick.

The Utah Heritage Foundation put a roadblock to those plans when it filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming it has an historic easement preventing the demolition. The foundation says it will drop the lawsuit if the city gives Lucas' proposal a reasonable chance.

After discussing the issue Tuesday night for three hours, however, council members couldn't agree on how much time to give Lucas. It also was unclear which four council members support giving Lucas' renovation proposal a chance and which ones want the city to stick with its agreement with Georgetown Development.

Council members David Rail, Shari Holweg and Dennis Hall spoke in favor of giving renovation one last chance. Council members Karl Thalman, Greg Hudnall and Jim Daley said they wanted to stick with the Georgetown proposal. Councilwoman Jane Carlile was absent during most discussion and her position is unclear.

In the end, the council voted to table for two weeks two resolutions that would put Georgetown's proposal on hold for 45 days to give Lucas a chance to formalize his offer. After 45 days, the council would have declared the property surplus and condemned the easement.

If Lucas came through with a viable proposal he would have to pay Georgetown $100,000 plus any planning costs. If Lucas did not come through, the Heritage Foundation would drop its suit and allow the city to demolish the buildings and sell the property to Georgetown.

What the council did do was pass 4-3 a non-binding resolution asking Stewart to do nothing for two weeks so more information could be gathered from Lucas and the Heritage Foundation. Even though Daley voiced his support for Georgetown's proposal, he voted for the resolution along with Holweg, Hall and Rail.

Stewart said Georgetown agreed to the terms of the proposed resolutions, but said tabling the issue might jeopardize that agreement.

The administration can honor the council's request to wait two weeks when the issue is discussed again or move forward with Georgetown's plans, Stewart said. The city started the process two weeks ago to declare the buildings unsafe and have them demolished. To stop that process, the foundation likely will have to file a suit in state court. Stewart said he doesn't want to stop demolition proceedings.

"I don't believe in the end that Lucas will come through and we're going to have egg on our face," Stewart said.

Holweg said the city should give Lucas the same opportunity to perform that Georgetown is getting.