This is the third in a series of articles about the announced construction of a hotel on Main Street in Lexington.
Lake and Main has researched public records and emailed principal players to create a timeline of events regarding the intended construction of a hotel in downtown Lexington. The proposed hotel would be in the heart of an already heavily congested area and has generated quite a bit of concern and conversation.
The following timeline has been developed based on public records, conversations with involved parties and open source reporting.
|116 East Main Street LLC incorporated with SC Secretary of State|
|116 East Main Street LLC purchases property for $1 million|
|It is announced a four-story, 90-100 room hotel will be built on the property|
|Town of Lexington representatives approach Masonic Lodge #152 to acquire property|
|SC State Senator Katrina Shealy sends text message to Mayor Steve MacDougall on Masonic Lodge behalf|
|Lake and Main publishes first story about Town attempts to acquire Masonic property|
Week of 17 Sept
|Mayor MacDougall advises Town Council of Sen. Shealy text|
|Nothing has been submitted to the Planning Department on any sort of construction project at 116 Main Street|
116 East Main Street LLC
On 15 February, Mr. Ajay Champaneri, owner of the company, Lexington Hospitality, incorporated a new entity, 116 East Main Street LLC which is also the address of the property on which the intended hotel is to be built. The property itself was sold to that new company nearly three months later on Thursday, May 10th. Four days after that, Monday, May 14th, it was announced that a Marriott-branded hotel would be built at 116 East Main Street.
It is apparent that as early as mid-February, eight months ago, Mr. Champaneri was confident that he was going to build a hotel at 116 East Main Street. This seems likely because he incorporated a company with the name of that property on the 15th of February and his business is hotels.
The purpose of the Town of Lexington Planning Commission is as follows:
- Regularly updating the Town’s Comprehensive Plan
- Reviewing site plans for residential and commercial development
- Making a recommendation to Town Council about:
- Amendments to any of the Town’s land-use ordinances
- Planned Developments
- Road reclassifications
- The zoning district and road classification of a parcel upon annexation
A study of the Town of Lexington Planning Commission meeting minutes from the beginning of the year to the most recently posted online found no reference to any activity or plans for activity at the 116 East Main Street address. Responding to an email from Lake and Main, Mr. John Hanson, Town of Lexington Director of Planning, Building and Technology, wrote “At this time nothing has been submitted to the Planning Department on any sort of construction project at 116 Main Street.“
Businessmen don’t bet a million dollars that they “might” be able to do something without being certain that it can and will be accomplished. The property at 116 East Main Street clearly is not large enough for a four story, 90-100 room hotel and commensurate parking. That is obvious by looking at the plat.
The Senator’s Text Message
The wheels had been put in motion for the Town to acquire the Masonic property for hotel parking no more than a few weeks after the May 10th purchase of 116 East Main Street by Lexington Hospitality.
According to State Senator Katrina Shealy, she was asked to contact Mayor MacDougall at the request of an officer of Lexington Masonic Lodge #152. “Y’all need to take care of the folks at the Lexington Masonic Lodge.” she wrote in a text she provided to Lake and Main. “As you know that is a charitable organization that has been there 150 years. They can not afford to move and have a mortgage somewhere. It will look really good for the town to do the right thing here.”
At most, 45 days passed between the time the property was bought and Sen. Shealy contacted Mayor MacDougall on behalf of the Masons. Almost three months passed between Sen. Shealy’s text and the Mayor informing the Town Council of it.
To find out more about how the process worked, Lake and Main sent two emails. The first was sent to Mr. Champaneri on Friday, September 28 and asked:
- When you incorporated the company 116 East Main Street LLC did you know or have reason to believe at the time that the Town of Lexington would grant the necessary permissions to build a 4-story, 90-100 room hotel on the lot at that address? If so, who provided such assurance?
- When you purchased that property, did you know or have reason to believe at the time that the Town of Lexington would grant the necessary permissions to build a 4-story, 90-100 room hotel on the lot at that address? If so, who provided such assurance?
- At what point did you realize that the property at 116 East Main was not large enough to accommodate the hotel and requisite parking?
- Did anyone from or representing the Town of Lexington indicate to you – officially or otherwise – that the Town would provide or acquire parking space for the hotel? If so, who and when?
- Was any specific property discussed or suggested as potential for hotel parking?
- Were you aware that the Town was trying or going to try to acquire the property currently owned by Masonic Lodge #152 on Butler Street for the purposes of using that property for hotel parking? If so, when and from whom were you made aware?
- Did anyone from or representing the Town of Lexington indicate to you – officially or otherwise – that the Town Planning Commission had or would approve construction of a hotel at 116 East Main Street?
Mr. Champaneri has not responded.
The second email was sent on the morning of October 3 to Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall:
- When did you learn that Mr. Champaneri and/or any of his companies intended to purchase the property (116 East Main St.)?
- When did you learn of the intention to build a hotel at that property?
- When was Town Council first informed of the intention to build a hotel at that property?
- Were any conditions for the Town to provide parking space for the hotel made by Mr. Champaneri? If so, when?
- Did you or anyone representing the Town of Lexington – officially or unofficially – give or insinuate to Mr. Ajay Champaneri, his companies or any of his representatives assurances that a hotel at that location would be approved by the Town Council, the Town Planning Commission or any other element of town government? If so, when, by whom and to whom?
- Did you or anyone representing the Town of Lexington – officially or unofficially – give or insinuate to Mr. Ajay Champaneri, his companies or any of his representatives assurances that parking space for the hotel would be provided by the Town? If so, when, by whom and to whom?
- When did the Town first approach Lexington Masonic Lodge #152 regarding the purchase of their property?
Not having received a response from the Mayor, a text was sent to him Thursday night (4 October). He said that it had gone to his “junk folder.” However, a “read receipt” was generated by Mayor MacDougall’s computer verifying that the email was opened on the afternoon of the 3rd, less than six hours after it was sent.
This is the Mayor’s response, received Sunday night (7 October):
I have thought long and hard about this response to your email. Due to your extreme bias against me that you have already shown in your articles, it causes me to have great pause and say that I am sorry that our relationship has come to this. You were unfortunately given some wrong information and you ran with it without any fact check at all.
Some of your questions pertain to matters that were discussed in executive session. I like other members of council will adhere to a, do not discuss outside of executive, to protect the nature of the conversation and any ongoing negotiations we may be involved in.
I do not feel that you will be fair with any response I may have and you will twist my words to fit your obvious agenda. Therefore if you wish to have answers to these questions please contact the staff that was involved in the conversations. In order to set in part of your story straight I was not present nor was I ever invited to a meeting with the masons.
Thank you for responding.
It’s unfortunate that you choose to be unresponsive to a constituent and prefer to evoke “executive session” as an excuse. This email was an attempt to “fact check,” yet you have chosen to evade that effort.
It’s also curious that you will attest to not having met with or “ever (been) invited to a meeting with” the Masons. As my sources say differently, that will have to be a “he said, he said.” Further, it’s interesting to me that you will comment on whether or not you met with them, but will not remark on meeting with the developer.
What has been posted on Lake and Main has been true and documented. If that presents a bias against you, so be it. That was not the intent, but if it is a result, I cannot be blamed for simply making the information public.
The Mayor’s use of “executive privilege” is not founded in law. That’s because there is no state law or Town law/rule/regulation/ordinance that restricts members of an executive session from discussing what goes on in the meetings. Naturally, there are times and issues that warrant confidentiality, and those are outlined in state law. But even those instances have a shelf life.
It is also very important that the questions Lake and Main asked intentionally avoided points or issues that could be construed as confidential for purposes of negotiation. In fact, if the answers are being kept from the public, via executive session or any other reason, there are far more serious questions that can and should be asked. Under oath, if necessary.
If all of this is just the complicated way of urban development, so be it. Having been the Mayor and now an employee of developer Mungo Homes, Mr. MacDougall is more familiar than most with the nuances and particulars of property acquisition and building so he should be able to help us understand, at least from a public service point of view.
- What – or who – gave Mr. Champaneri the idea – the confidence – that if he bought the land, he would be able to not only build a hotel there, but also have the parking he would need for it?
- Why does the Town of Lexington seek to buy property to build parking for a hotel – not the public – that has yet to be approved or even reviewed by the Planning Commission?
- Why was property bought for a hotel with no official assurances that permissions would be granted?
- Why plan for a hotel on a space with no room for parking?
- Why is the Town trying to buy property for the hotel without the advise or consent of Town Council or the Planning Commission?
- Why didn’t the Mayor tell the Town Council about correspondence from a State Senator?
- Why doesn’t the owner of the property respond to questions, the answers to which should be easily known to him?
- Why does the Mayor refuse to answer questions that don’t jeopardize confidentiality?
Because of Mr. Champaneri’s silence and Mayor MacDougall’s lack of candor, there is far too much left unanswered. Mr. Champaneri is a private citizen with no obligation to talk to or respond to anyone about his business.
Mayor MacDougall, however…