Before Raleigh City Council members will approve bonds for William Peace University, they are requiring that college officials meet with the community to discuss their immediate and long-term goals.
The vote on the bonds, which are not issued by the city, will take place at the May 21 Council meeting, giving the college officials time to meet with neighbors and answer questions about development plans.
Specifically, residents want to know if the college intends on purchasing the Seaboard Station property next door.
Seaboard Station has been in the middle of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings since last year, and multiple parties have expressed interest in the property, including the university.
During a Tuesday public hearing, University President Debra Townsley said the school has a vested interest keeping Seaboard viable as a retail space because it provides a benefit to its students and staff.
“We do believe in Seaboard,” she said.
If the school were to purchase Seaboard, she said, it would be used to generate income.
The bonds in question can only be used to refinance the existing debt that is outlined in the college’s bond statement, which include some construction and renovation projects on the Peace campus.
But some community residents who spoke during the hearing said the bonds would be used to free up other funding, which could then be used to purchase the Seaboard property.
North Bloodworth resident Jacob Stohler said Peace officials haven’t been open with the community in the past. Stohler may have been referring to the way the college handled the 2003 closing of Franklin Street through the campus.
Stohler said residents now don’t trust the college’s long-range intentions.
Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin said the school has a classic public relations problem. While the bonds aren’t directly related to Seaboard Station, she said that in the eyes of the public they are. She said that she “can’t vote on this bond until some of these community issues are resolved.”
She urged Townsley to begin reaching out to the community to build trust.
Townsley reiterated that the school wants to see Seaboard flourish because it is an asset to the school.
“It is just ideal for us,” she said of the walkable, urban setting.
The public hearing related to the bonds has been left open for additional comments and a final vote during the Council meeting May 21.