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Business owner lays out claims against City of Greensboro

June 04, 2020 - 06:00
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Editor's Note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Cail Hammons spoke during the city council meeting. It was actually Kendrick Ward who spoke. We regret the error.

 

“My question to you is what’s next?” Teri Bragg, owner of The Yesterday Café, asked the City of Greensboro mayor and council during the Monday, June 1, meeting.

The question came following a history that brought her to Monday night’s meeting, which included several allegations by the business owner. Bragg’s address to the council ended with her wanting to know what the council was going to do as she is constantly being asked when her café will re-open.

Bragg’s comments didn’t go without notice. During the public comment portion of the meeting, several residents and other local business owners showed their support for Bragg and the café while others defended themselves.

Bragg said that, back in 2005, the mayor, city manager and the director of the Better Hometown organization (now Main Street program) came to her restaurant in Rutledge and asked her to move her business to Greensboro. Bragg said she was offered several incentives including a 10-year tax freeze and was promised federal historic tax credits if she restored her building to historic standards, opened a restaurant and brought jobs to local residents.

However, Bragg said she has paid taxes every year since she has been there.

“Why didn’t I sue?” Bragg asked. “A lot of people asked that. Well I was new to the business here in town, I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers and I certainly didn’t want to alienate any of my downtown community. I needed everybody to walk through my door, and I needed their business in order for me to be successful.”

Bragg said she restored her building to the historic standards.

“After receiving my tax credit certification, I needed one final document, and it was from the city, so I called Cail Hammons for a copy of that final document I needed. Her response was, ‘I shredded them,’” Bragg said. “She shredded all the documents. I lost $500,000 because of the shredding of this document; that’s a half a million dollars.”

Bragg also explained that she lived in the apartment above the café for many years. In the process of renovating the apartment, Bragg said she wanted to put the air conditioning units behind the café, however she was told by the zoning officer that the only way she would get a permit was to put the units on the side of the building. Bragg said she wanted

Bragg said she wanted air conditioning, so she complied. Bragg continued saying that she fulfilled her promises.

“I have brought jobs, I have paid taxes and I have promoted business, not only for myself but the other downtown businesses, only to suffer a loss of tax freeze, a loss of a half a million dollars in tax credits and more recently a lawsuit involving those A/C units that I didn’t even want placed where the city required me to place them,” Bragg said. “That recent lawsuit has ended up costing me another $90,000.”

She then went on to talk about when she came to a council meeting in December to discuss parking. She said she was told to attend a downtown business meeting because the council would better receive it if the businesses came to the council as a group. Bragg claimed that she was met with hostility at the meeting, and that Kendrick Ward told her the meeting was for members only. Bragg said she felt humiliated in front of the other business people.

At the end of the downtown business meeting, Bragg said she was asked to join a committee about parking but said she felt it was in the best interest of the town that she not be on it. Bragg stopped her presentation to ask the council if they were bored or if they needed a break or if she could continue, to which the mayor said, “You may continue.”

Bragg made several more allegations during her presentation, pointing out various people in the meeting.

“The next city council meeting, Kendrick Ward requested street closures. Mr. Mayor, you asked Kendrick if street closures had been discussed at any opposition at the business meeting,” Bragg said. “She replied, ‘No, there wasn’t.’ I raised my hand and I said that is not true; it was discussed at length. There are several business owners, Mr. Mayor, you are very fair, and you said maybe we should table this until we talk to other business owners, but the city council, you guys are like, ‘ah, we don’t need to talk to other business owners. We’ve always done it this way; let’s just keep closing them.’”

Bragg also said Hammons was at the meeting and said that maybe the downtown businesses didn’t want events anymore, to which Bragg responded they do, but the businesses just want the city to work with them.

Bragg also made allegations that the Better Hometown (Main Street program) never contacted her about meetings or upcoming happenings. She brought up a conversation she had with the Better Hometown director in Social Circle and how they gave their four brick and mortar businesses over $30,000 in grants during COVID-19, claiming that it is the organization’s job to support businesses.

Bragg then said she has bills to pay, so she has been selling pies, but that she has also donated many to the community. She asked the council what was next.

“What shall I tell my customers?” she asked.

“I’ve been lied to. I’ve been run from my home,” Bragg said. “I’ve been afraid to sit on my back porch because I live on a corner here in town, and I turn the lights off at night so something doesn’t happen to me. I care about my quality of life, especially after city council meetings. I’m real scared and I’m not being dramatic; I’m tell you the God’s honest truth.”

“Ms. Bragg, we certainly appreciate you bringing your concerns before the council, the mayor and council to address and express your feel of how you’ve operated in the past 15 years here in the City of Greensboro so we do hear and make notation of your concern,” Mayor Glenn Wright said. “Thank you, and we certainly appreciate it.” Cynthia Smith, owner

Cynthia Smith, owner of Genuine Georgia, was the first to speak during the public comment, saying that she loves the cafe and was saddened to hear about some of the things Bragg had presented. She also spoke to the tax credits

“I wanted people to know that was not your job to get the tax credits,” Smith said. The purpose of the tax credit was to give them whoever buys the building and they turn around and turn them into tax credits and stuff like that.”

Smith also said she was the one that wanted to set up a parking committee and talked about how several of those issues have been solved. She also talked about the work that the Main Street program has done during the pandemic, such as helping with social media training and offering scavenger hunts to help continue to bring people to Greensboro.

“As much as I love Ms. Terri, and it would kill me if she left, I just can’t let that go unsaid,” Smith said. “Y’all [Main Street program] have saved me again and again through this pandemic.”

Resident after resident stood up to ask the council to help Bragg, saying the café was part of the draw that brought them to Greensboro. Local business owners said their businesses wouldn’t be as successful with out the café.

Kendrick Ward also spoke during the public comment. Ward said she was sorry Bragg feels the way she does, but the Greensboro Business Association is a merchants association, and the Main Street office is city staff. They don’t have the ability to tell anybody who comes those meetings about anything when it comes to finances.

Ward wanted to let the council know that the organization looked at the façade grant to see if they had any money from when businesses didn’t apply for façade grants and the Downtown Development Association had come up with a microloan, a 60/40 microloan, that was sent to the merchants that was a 60/40 of the $500 because they only had a small amount of money that could disperse out.

Ward said they awarded all five businesses the money, despite that three businesses were not business association members and two were, to help with utilities and other things during the pandemic. Ward said they have been sending out emails, and Bragg was in the emails and had thanked them for including her in the emails. Ward told the council they are here to help the merchants and they do help them. She also said they have put it out there that they would meet with the merchants and that they have been using social media to keep Greensboro on people’s minds.