The Detroit Public Schools Community District Board again postponed a vote Tuesday night on the sale of the former Cooley High School to nonprofit Life Remodeled.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at the meeting that he will seek to return to the negotiating table with Life Remodeled to attempt to negotiate a better price, referrals for required activities, or financial commitments tied to a schedule and capacity of the district to ensure that the property is used for the proposed purpose.
The delay came after the sale failed to pass the council’s finance committee last week due to concerns raised by Finance Committee Chair and DPSCD Council Treasurer Sonya Mays over the sale of the property in below the $930,000 appraisal amount that returned as one of many appraisals in the district.
Mays, president and CEO of nonprofit real estate and housing company Develop Detroit, also questioned whether Life Remodeled’s proposal aligns with a neighborhood-level analysis of the property’s best uses and the the district’s ability to ensure that the nonprofit can carry out the project as proposed or the district can take it over.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he began to change his mind about his recommendation to sell Cooley to Life Remodeled for $400,000 after talking to committee and board members.
The majority of council want to continue to negotiate for a higher sale price, that the property will be used for a proposed use that is beneficial to the community and/or references in the purchase agreement to secure the dollars needed to make the $37.5 million proposed. project a reality are there, he said.
Concerns also arose over other issues, including a verbal comment during negotiations that Life Remodeled would donate Cooley’s soccer field and adjacent property to an unaccredited junior college, Vitti said, which raised issues. because it was not included in the proposal.
Vitti said he would change his recommendation to sell the building if the value cannot be negotiated closer to the appraisal price and if other points cannot be negotiated with Life Remodeled.
The district paid several appraisals of Cooley this year, including one that found that Cooley and the 18 acres it sits on at Fenkell and Hubbard Avenues would only be of value if you tear the building down, at a cost of $4. at $6 million, Vitti said.
In public comments on Tuesday, Life Remodeled CEO Chris Lambert said the organization entered into good faith purchase deal negotiations with the district this fall after learning it was was the biggest favorite.
His offer of $400,000 was mutually agreed upon, he said, noting that Life Remodeled had made numerous concessions, including “acceptance of covenants, deed restrictions and a recovery that most developers wouldn’t accept,” he said.
“However, about 24 hours ago I was told that Life Remodeled had to pay $930,000, more than double the mutually agreed price – and on top of that we have to agree to even more recovery milestones, yet to be determined, by which means the district might take the property back from us after closing, because what if Life Remodeled doesn’t do the job and the vacant building remains unsafe and destroyed?”
Lambert pointed to another valuation that he said was done by Plante Moran PLLC that ended up being negative $1.8 million and asked why board members decided that the valuation was the higher of $930,000 was correct.
“These last-minute bait and switch tactics are designed to stall that process and inevitably ensure that Cooley isn’t sold,” Lambert said.
Still, Life Remodeled will come back to the table to negotiate with the district, “because community members and Cooley alumni have asked us to,” he said in a statement emailed to Crain’s. .