Some Skepticism Aside, County Broadens Old Courthouse Panel’s Mission: Find Tenants
FlaglerLive | November 17, 2014
County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin has had enough of carrying the $6,000-a-month cost of of the old courthouse, and he may soon be joined by other commissioners who think likewise–but not just yet: instead, the commission Monday evening voted 4-1 not only not to disband the courthouse committee, but to broaden its mission. The committee has until March 31 to find enough tenants for the building to make it at least break even.
“It’s certainly not a question of haste makes waste, because we have tolerated this situation for so long,” Commission Chairman George Hanns said. “However, at this point we finally have positive, motivated things happening, and I’m very enthusiastic with continuing in that vein to come up with something that would be a resolution for that courthouse.”
Barbara Revels, the county commissioner who chaired the courthouse committee, briefly presented the findings of the panel to the commission, including the panel’s blunt hint that in its previous charge, it could not seek out tenants or “do proposals, talk to people, outreach for funding, for leases, along with [county] staff,” as Revels put it. Now the seven-person voluntary board can do just that. (See the full committee report here.)
McLaughlin twice opposed the new approach. “To commit the county to any more money on this asset, I really can’t be in favor of,” he said. The historical value is not worth the financial burden the building is creating, especially in light of ditches on the west side that need addressing, as well as drainage issues on Malacompra Road in the Hammock, among other projects. McLaughlin doesn’t think the building should be demolished: that would cost too much, he said.
But he was opposed to “four or five, six more months of supporting it when we could just have it auctioned off and be done with it,” he said. He was also unimpressed by the results of the open house in August, when only 100 people showed up, half of them, he said, either county employees or people affiliated with the county. “There doesn’t appear to me to be a lot of interest in our community to spend any money on this.” Nor does he want the building to compete with the private sector for office space.
But Commissioners Hanns and Frank Meeker, who support the committee’s extension and new responsibility, are not seeing that extension as open ended by any means.
“Basically it’s a quarter of the year,” Meeker said. “I’m willing to invest the time and maybe $20,000 or so to keep it up and operational to give this committee the opportunity to come back with some kind of a viable project. Now if after that time they can’t come back with a viable project, that’s when we need to be thinking about other options. Because I want to give them every opportunity.”
To McLaughlin, a viable project is a company or an agency that would be willing to invest its money in the building. He doesn’t see that happening any more readily in the next three months than such an entity might have been interested in doing so in the past year–or the past seven. “I’m a little concerned that it’s been vacant for six or seven years now, and the interest hasn’t come up that anybody has started some kind of a fund,” McLaughlin said. He compared it to Carver Gym in Bunnell, which the commission was ready to stop funding and close, only to see a consortium of support and a non-profit emerge and save it. Carver Gym, of course, is a much smaller, more manageable building that had never closed, and that, even when it was embattled, represented the only active, viable recreational facility for South Bunnell.
Revels said the intent is to, “at a minimum, cover the cost of the operation of the facility” including any repairs to the exterior and to the building’s elevators. The county would then have to work with tenants to determine who would pay what and how. But that’s regarding the newer portion of the building–the annex. The older portion of the courthouse is going to need more work and grants to survive, Revels said.
Commissioner Charlie Ericksen estimates that filling a third of the annex would be enough to cover the break-even costs.
Hanns said three more months “is not going to break us,” but he pledged that March 31 will be the drop-dead date for a decision. Beyond that, he said, “I’ll be the first or second to say we need drastic measures now.”