By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council voted unanimously on Nov. 25 counter-offer $3.2 million to the development company interested in buying the property containing City Hall.
However, the feedback Mayor Bob Campbell got the following afternoon from the Alabama-based Developers Realty, LLC, the firm representing the business wishing to set up shop at the current City Hall location on U.S. 90, was decidedly un-optimistic.
The development firm originally offered the city $2.4 million for the City Hall property, but the Council’s counter-offer, arrived at after two workshops in as many weeks and hours of cumulative discussion on the matter, doesn’t appear to be in-line with the developer’s expectations, Campbell said.
“They said we’re way off (with the counter-offer),” he said, immediately following his phone conversation with company reps. “The situation looks bleak right now. Will they come back with a counter-offer of their own? Maybe. We just don’t know, but it’s looking really bleak.”
Campbell did not officially confirm the identity of the business represented by the developer, but he said it is a publicly traded retailer – a business which has thus far been referred to as “Company P” in all dealings between the mayor and City Council. Campbell said most if not all the councilman know the name of the business by now. Several local businesses have come forward to both the mayor and to the Herald, with all indications pointing toward CVS pharmacy, one of the retailers in Developers Realty’s stable.
Nevertheless, Campbell continued to expound his belief that time is of the essence if the City Council is to decide on the sale and relocation of City Hall. The two primary sites upon which to possibly relocate City Hall are both located along U.S. 90. The first, located at the intersection with 10th Street, and once a Piggly Wiggly grocery store location, is said by representatives of the city’s engineering and architectural firms to be the most promising of the two proposed sites.
Reports from the city’s engineers indicate that the existing 7,992-square-foot structure, which already has a utilities connection, could be rehabbed and refurbished for somewhere between $679,000 and $799,200. The property also has the potential for future expansion, which would likely prove necessary if the requirement of 10,480-square-foot for a new City Hall is to be met.
The total cost of such a renovation project falls between $2.1 million and $2.7 million, based on the assumption that the city would purchase the former Piggly Wiggly building as well as the auto repair shop and the building located on the property’s northwest corner. The estimated cost includes the land purchase, site preparation, removal of hazardous materials – if any – and the necessary purchase of new furniture and fixtures. Purchasing the property, demolishing the extant structures and building an altogether new city hall is estimated at just more than $3 million.
The councilmen remained divided on the matter of moving City Hall downtown, with Councilman Mac Carpenter championing the move as helping to revitalize the district, while Councilman Ron Kelley contended that office buildings downtown would not have as great an impact as new commercial businesses. Councilmen Henry Ennis and Kermit Wright both agreed the total cost of moving City Hall to the 20th Street site needed to be ascertained beyond a doubt before the board can move toward a final decision.
Elsewhere on the agenda, it came down to a 3-2 vote, but the Council eventually decided to direct City Manager Sara Bowers and the mayor to draft a policy regarding reimbursing officials for expenses incurred while travelling or working on behalf of the city. The mayor said he has made “dozens and dozens” of trips, sometimes using his personal vehicle when a city vehicle was unavailable, on behalf of the city and has sometimes not been paid back for his mileage, in accordance with the rules as currently laid out.
Kelley and Ennis, who cast the dissenting votes, opposed a change in policy on the grounds of potential for abuses by future office holders, while the other board members agreed to at least hear a proposal enabling the city manager to re-compensate officials without Council approval. The proposed reimbursement policy will be presented at the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting.
The Council also approved the final agreement in the land deal between the city and property owner Diane Pickett, who sold 31 acres along U.S. 331 to the city, as presented by City Attorney Clayton Adkinson. He advised the board members that he had received the first installment of the total $586,000 agreed upon and will write a check to the city, which will in turn write a check for the same amount to the Florida Department of Transportation. FDOT agreed to take over the relocation of utilities as part of the highway’s ongoing widening project, but Pickett later contested the validity of the deed, leading to negotiations with the city that lasted for several months.
Once concluded (by the time of the receipt of the second installment in the first quarter of next year) the transaction will completely clear the matter between all parties, Adkinson said. He stressed that no taxpayer monies had been used to settle the account between the city and Pickett.
The board agreed to a name change for the Economic Development Tourism Committee, which will now to be known as the Special Events Committee, in keeping with its more narrowly focused mission. They also approved an amendment to City Ordinance 617, which affects the applicability of homestead exemptions, to reflect these changes: exemptions will apply to persons 65 and older that have maintained permanent residence for 25 years on property valued at $250,000 or less.
Finally, the regular City Council meeting scheduled for Dec. 23 was cancelled by a 5-0 vote.
By REID TUCKER