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Modified Fairgrounds project OK’d

After about 10 years of work, the residential part of the Fairgrounds affordable housing venture finally is getting off the ground.

City Council voted Wednesday to sell about 4.1 acres of land west of the new Health and Human Services building to Associated Contracting Services Inc., which will build 34 to 36 homes on the property. The purchase price, $450,000, will be paid in installments throughout construction of the project.

“We are very excited about breaking ground,” said Gary Haste, director of development for Associated Contracting Services. Haste was the only speaker at a public hearing held before the conveyance.

Plans for revitalization of the area known as the Fairgrounds have been in the works for about 10 years. The area on East Washington Street between Pinner and Factory streets once was the heart of the African-American commercial district in the city.

In 2001, a multi-day workshop incorporated the input of residents, property owners and business owners to come up with a plan for the area that included improved streetscaping, sidewalks, lighting fixtures and traffic calming measures. The main features would include affordable housing, commercial ventures and new uses for historical buildings such as the Phoenix Bank.

As the years passed, however, the project got stalled for various reasons and shrank in scope. The housing portions of the project had to be redesigned when City Council voted to place the Health and Human Services building on the property after the originally proposed HHS site originally proposed met with public resistance.

Council members pointed out that several private investments have been made in the area in anticipation of the project, particularly at East Point Plaza, across the street from the Health and Human Services building. The development by Tom Powell has created office space for his marketing group and loft apartments.

William Goodman, a member of the now-dissolved Fairgrounds steering committee, said the project is not coming about as the committee originally designed, mostly because of the addition of the health building.

“We weren’t looking for the Health and Human Services building to be placed there,” Goodman said. “It’s acceptable in light of the property that’s left and the overall design of the area. It’s not anything we can’t live without.”

The Phoenix Bank, originally intended to be the focal point of the Fairgrounds project, now will serve as the home for the city’s Economic Development department. Construction is expected to begin soon on the restoration of the bank.