The agenda of this morning’s Skillman Corridor TIF design review committee meeting had nothing to do with the Lake Highlands Town Center grocery store. But not surprisingly, that’s all anyone wanted to talk about.

Before Town Center developer Prescott Realty made its presentation to the committee, made up mostly of architects and planners knowledgeable about urban design, Prescott executive Stephanie Colovas addressed the 25 or so Lake Highlands residents sitting in the City Hall auditorium, whom she assumed (rightly) were there because of their interest in what store might become next Town Center grocer.

“I assure you — we’ve talked to every grocer and been tenacious on finding a grocer,” Colovas said. “ The reality is we don’t have a deal signed with a grocer right now. Nothing’s been inked.”

Colovas went on to say that Prescott is in “advanced negotiations” with two grocers, and neither she nor anyone else from Prescott specified which ones throughout the course of the meeting — even as residents came to the mic and gave their opinions on Tom Thumb versus Sprouts or other boutique grocers, Prescott executives didn’t confirm, deny or make giveaway facial expressions. Clearly, Prescott doesn’t want to announce possible tenants until they are actual tenants.

Colovas also told the residents gathered that Prescott has “been tenacious about finding the right organic grocer and we’re still trying to find that organic grocer,” but “we can’t build something if we can’t get financing for it,” and finding banks to finance an organic grocer has been difficult for the company.

Financing was the reason repeatedly given for the holdup of Town Center construction, but Colovas made clear that Prescott is invested — $73 million so far — and is determined to see the project through. The Town Center project has endured “one of the most unprecedented economic downturns since the Depression,” Colovas said.

“Financing dried up, retail was all but nonexistent, companies were focused on cutting costs and closing unprofitable stores,” she continued. “People have talked about the delay — on massive projects like this, there are going to be ups and downs, and it’s a marathon, but no one could have imagined” the economic situation Prescott found itself in after launching the project. “But the fact that we’re still standing … you look at several other projects in Dallas that started the same time we did, and they’re not there anymore.”

She attributed that to the Town Center’s public-private partnership, and to “huge stakeholder commitment.” She also emphasized to those gathered that it is the city, not Prescott, seeking design changes to the site, but referred to city-hired consultant Street-Works as “experts” who have “done mixed-use developments all over the country.” Making changes to the site plan “may protract the development timeline, and we don’t want to do that, but we want to get it right.”

Afterward, we talked to Sue Hounsel of the city’s office of economic development, which works closely with the Skillman Corridor TIF board. We asked whether the city could make determinations on the size of the Town Center grocer or specify a tenant, and she reconfirmed that it is ultimately Prescott’s call according to what is stated in the site’s Planned Development zoning. The city is interested in businesses coming to Dallas, Hounsel said, but beyond that the city isn’t interested in telling a developer what business to choose or in telling a business where in Dallas to go.

As far as a timeline, the design review committee voted today to have the city hire Street Works or a similar design consultant to work with Prescott over the next 90-120 days. TIF board member Rob Stewart, who chaired the committee meeting, also asked Prescott to “get with the community to seek their input” over the next three or four months, in response to the neighbors who had gathered and their comments pleading with Prescott to be involved in the process. Neighborhood resident Jennifer Eckert took the mic during the comments portion of the meeting and told Prescott executives that neighbors could be empowered to recruit grocers to the site.

“We have gotten many things done that people have said could never get done in Lake Highlands,” Eckert said. “Involve the community more. Please. I am begging you. We feel like we have been completely left out of this since those initial surveys and focus groups four years ago.”

Colovas responded to Eckert and other commenters, admitting that Prescott has “stayed sort of under the radar and kept a low profile. I have felt like I have been a broken record in talking with some of the leaders of the community in that I have nothing new to report. But that said, I hear you, and we will commit to doing a better job of being transparent.”

The current deadline for the Skillman Corridor TIF agreement with the Lake Highlands Town Center is June 30 — a six-month extension from the original Dec. 31, 2010 date granted by city staff and the TIF Board. The agreement, which would provide Prescott with up to $23 million in tax revenue reimbursement down the road when the project is complete, was that Prescott would be finished with Phase 1 of its construction — 260,000 square feet — by that date. The TIF board is anticipating another extension at its 10 a.m. June 1 meeting, which would need City Council approval, likely at the June 22 meeting before council recesses in July. If for some reason an extension is not approved and the agreement expires, the city and Prescott “could start anew with a new agreement,” Hounsel said.

But “it would not be a good thing,” Colovas noted.