MORGANTOWN — Developer WestRidge, the Monongalia County Commission and a team of legal and financial consultants had all but finalized a $72 million bond issuance in March 2020 to continue development in the University Town Centre TIF district.
Then came COVID.
In one historic week, the stock market dropped 2,000 points on March 9 … Then again on March 12 … and again on March 16.
And just like that, a $72 million bond placement became a $27 million bond placement used primarily to redeem 2017 bonds being held by the developer.
“As everybody knows, that just evaporated the market for this type of bonds and really closed the door for almost a year to any kind of return to normalcy in that market,” WestRidge’s Ryan Lynch said Monday as the county commission met in special session to approve new 2021 bonds in order to take advantage of a revitalized market and make up the difference.
The 2021 Series A bonds will be used to repay about $21.6 million on the 2020 bonds and provide an estimated $4.3 million for future project costs.
A second-lien series of 2021 B bonds will provide an estimated $12.6 million for future project costs — roughly $7.5 million of which are contingent upon signing leases to bring Kohl’s and Texas Roadhouse into the district.
Lastly, a third series of 2021 bonds, not to exceed $55 million, will be held by the developer. That money would be used to pay off the 2020 bonds and bankroll continued investment based on the belief that future bonds will be issued.
Lynch said aggregate sales in the TIF district have returned to pre-COVID levels and the bond market has rebounded.
“It’s probably linked to seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine and being able to at least envision a return to normalcy,” Lynch explained.
He went on to say that COVID has interrupted, but never stopped, progress within the district.
“Menards, Bass Pro and then the Home Goods, Burlington – that’s about 350,000 square-foot of retail,” he said. “To move that much retail forward at any time is a lot, but to keep it relatively on schedule despite the last 18 months or so is an unbelievably challenging and noteworthy accomplishment if we keep going.”