By REID TUCKER
There are still dotted lines on which to sign, but somebody finally made the DeFuniak Springs City Council an offer it couldn’t refuse – a little more than $3 million for the City Hall property.
The Council members voted 3-1 at their Dec. 9 meeting to accept Crim Development’s offer of $3,001,000 for the 4.2-acre plot overlooking the intersection of U.S. Highways 90 and 331 South. That amount was an increase of $201,000 over the previous offer made at a special meeting last Thursday, when the Council voted to have city staff draw up a request for bids on the property.
Councilman Mac Carpenter, who made the motion to accept the offer, subject to a legal review and a property appraisal, said the deal represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance for DeFuniak Springs. The city stands to leverage assets it already owns to pay for new city administrative buildings while simultaneously bringing in new businesses and taking steps to rejuvenate downtown, he said.
“I think this is a tremendous opportunity for the citizens of the city of DeFuniak Springs,” Carpenter said. “It provides the necessary capital for the city to use for a new city hall and possibly for a new police department building. I think it gives us a tremendous opportunity to make an investment of public money in the downtown area of the city…without borrowing (much) money.”
If the deal goes through following the 180-day inspection period requested by the developer, the city will replace the nearly 50-year-old city hall with a brand new one in the 12,000 square-foot range, though the Council has not yet decided where to relocate. Furthermore, the property, among the most visible and therefore valuable real estate in Walton County, will be the new home of four national retail businesses. Representatives from Crim Development would not confirm the identity of these prospective businesses at this time, but they will most likely be fast-food restaurants and a combination grocery store.
Councilman Ron Kelley voted against the motion to accept the $3 million-plus offer on the grounds that, by not taking the first offers to come along, the amounts being offered kept increasing from their $2.4 million starting point. Nevertheless, the Crim Development offer is itself just $200,000 short of the Council’s recent counter-offer to another prospective developer interested in the property. For that amount, the city could almost cover the cost of constructing a new city hall at an estimated $165-$180 per square foot.
Councilman Mac Work did not cast a vote on the motion due to a conflict of interest.
In other City Council news, the board members voted 5-0 to begin advertising for a new assistant city manager following the unexpected death of Bill Holloway, who recently passed away of sudden illness. In-house applications for the vacant position will be accepted through the first few days of January with general advertising to follow, and City Manager Sara Bowers hoped to bring some names before the Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 13. In the interim, the Council approved a suggestion by Bowers to authorize Finance Director Thomas Carman to execute purchases in her absence, but only after consulting with the mayor.
The Council also voted unanimously to name a new city water tower after Holloway, as construction of the well and tower was the last major project the late public works director was working on before his death. Councilman Kelley, who proposed the motion, said honoring Holloway in this way was fitting in light of his years of dedication to the city.
By REID TUCKER