Damiani blaming City for spoiled deal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2002

Downtown developer Andy Damiani says the city’s interference forced his deal to buy the run-down former Phoenix Bank of Nansemond to collapse earlier this month.

Assistant Director of Development Steve Herbert refuses to shoulder the blame, saying he just wanted to make sure the Brooklyn. N.Y., property owner realized the city was still interested in buying the building as part of its East Washington Street revitalization.

Neither of them is right, said Pazel Jackson, who 11 years ago inherited several local properties once owned by his late stepmother’s family.

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Jackson said conversations with both Damiani and city officials made him realize that the area is going through a &uot;surprising&uot; revitalization. That, along with the fact that Jackson received an unrelated offer for woodland he owns in Suffolk at the same time, prompted him to slow his decision to sell Damiani the bank building.

&uot;I was unaware of all the development activities taking place down there,&uot; Jackson said. &uot;I decided that rather than selling it at this point, I would suspend all activities and gather more information.

&uot;Right now, I’m open to offers. I want to wait and see if there are any additional ones that come in,&uot; he said. &uot;I just decided after so many years of owning the property, there is no point in rushing a decision to get rid of it.&uot;

Damiani said he and Jackson discussed the sale of the property at 339 W. Washington St. in early May. On May 15, Damiani offered Jackson $15,000. for the property in its existing condition.

When Jackson agreed to the offer, Damiani followed up the next week by sending a $1,000 deposit and a signed agreement to New York. Damiani said Jackson had verbally indicated that a deal had been agreed upon.

Damiani said he told Herbert about his plans to buy this historic bank on May 29. Within the week, Jackson had returned his cashier’s check and indicated that he was rejecting Damiani’s offer.

Damiani said the incident gives the &uot;perception of government misconduct.&uot;

&uot;This was a business deal between two private parties,&uot; said Damiani, questioning what Herbert told Jackson. &uot;I don’t know what they said that caused him to reject my offer.&uot;

Herbert and Elizabeth McCoury, the city’s downtown development coordinator, did call Jackson after learning of the contract on the bank and updated him on plans for the Fairgrounds initiative planned for the East Washington corridor.

They said they had been leaving messages for him with family members for almost a year regarding the city’s interest in the property. City phone records show calls were made to Jackson as early as May 2001.

Jackson said it wasn’t until he received a call at his business number that he began receiving the messages.

To date, the city has not made any offers on the property to Jackson, Herbert said.

Jackson reiterated that, again saying he would consider all offers – including Damiani’s – after having more time to study the issue.

Herbert said the city was not in a position to proceed with plans until the City Council adopted the fairground revitalization plan at this past Wednesday’s council meeting.