CHARLESTON — Taking another step in abandoning a mission imposed 18 years ago by the Legislature, the West Virginia Parkways Authority moved Thursday to seek a “binding” pact to sell its share in the CASCI building in Charleston.

One member, David Dickirson, who heads both the equipment and purchasing, and economic development and tourism committees, cast the lone opposition vote.

“I wondering if we’re going in the right direction on this,” said Dickirson, who, like other board members, took part in a conference call at the authority’s building.

“Obviously, it’s a very valuable piece of property. I don’t want to see us giving away a valuable piece of equity.”

Afterward, Gov. Joe Manchin’s representative on the board, Joe Martin, was emphatic that his boss wasn’t “strong-arming” the deal, as a radio reporter suggested.

Manchin anchored last week’s meeting when he coaxed passage of a resolution that telescopes the authority’s revised mission in life to mere upkeep of the 88-mile toll road while giving up economic development and tourism ventures.

Back in the 1989, the old turnpike commission was renamed and the new authority handed new responsibilities, moving it into economic development and tourism promotion. Now, Manchin wants a singular purpose of maintaining a safe and comfortable road.

“Gov. Manchin’s primary concern is anchoring 600 to 650 good-paying jobs for West Virginians,” Martin said of the CASCI sale.

“Clearly, the governor’s focus is taking care of West Virginians. I believe this action by the authority today furthers the governor’s intentions. Folks are going to keep working because of his action.”

CASCI is an acronym for Capital Area Services Co. Inc., a local division of the tenant, General Hospitalization and Medical Services Inc., which processes claims of federal employees.

Fifteen years ago, the Baltimore, Md., parent entered into a lease with the authority and Enterprise Partnership, Inc., a subsidiary of the Charleston Area Alliance. The authority has been a limited partner with 68 percent ownership.

A proposed lease, in limbo for several months, called for another 15-year run, with options for a couple of eight-year extensions.

Dickirson’s concerns were that a favorable lease might have been achieved, giving the authority a continued source of income and, in the end, a higher return for its investment.

As the proposed deal shakes out, the authority will end up with about a 6 percent profit overall, Manchin pointed out last week.

On the other hand, is there any guarantee that a new lease can even be agreed on, Turnpike Manager Greg Barr wondered.

“Will they, in fact, extend it after 15 years, and another eight?” he asked.

“And after that, will they extend it another eight? We don’t know for sure. That’s a risk factor. If you do a calculation of the present value of our investment at 15 years, then we’re getting a pretty good deal. You take it out 31 years, then maybe we’re not getting quite as much.”

Barr offered another element in the issue.

“On the other hand, there are not people knocking our doors down to offer us anything for that investment,” the Turnpike manager said.

“It is a limited partnership. We have no control over day-to-day operations. That’s a general partner’s job. The other thing mixed into this whole package is the lessee, the tenant. We don’t want to do anything that’s going to signal we’re not working to keep those jobs here.”

Martin said salaries paid to workers at the CASCI structure, formerly the Sears building, are in the neighborhood of $30,000.

The authority has until June 30 to cement the deal.

“The general feeling among the Alliance is some of the contingencies are not that big a hurdle to involve financing,” Barr said.

“You look at the present value, the future lease payments, because it involves a long-term lease, it will finance itself.”

— E-mail:

mannix@register-herald.com

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