Flagler County has a flock of albatrosses in its building inventory: the former Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell, the former Sears building off Palm Coast Parkway, and the former Wachovia Bank building off of Old Kings Road. County officials are trying to figure out what to do with those buildings.
Monday evening, county commissioners took a step toward at least attempting to be rid of the Sears building. They voted unanimously to offer that the seller, their realtor, an engineering firm and their insurers buy it back–or face lawsuits.
The county bought the building for $1.25 million in November 2018 after a tortuous option agreement that at one point commissioners attempted to set aside. They found themselves in a position to have to carry out the option. Soon afterward, it turned out the building was severely damaged. County officials today said that the sellers knew it was damaged and had a responsibility to disclose the building’s problems with water intrusion.
“Shortly after our purchase we discovered that there was an existing condition,” the county attorney said, “a pre-existing condition due to a failure in the gutter system, gutter repair.”
“A pre-existing condition that should have been disclosed by any seller, and/or realtor and/or engineer,” Commission Chairman Don O’Brien said. Hadeed showed a video of the copious water intrusion during a rain event.
The sellers were James and Adre’a McIntyre, who’d operated the Sears building. Their broker was Margaret Sheehan-Jones, who was also involved in several other county land or building and economic development deals, not least of them the old hospital that became the sheriff’s operations center, now evacuated, and the now-collapsed deal to bring a furniture company to the south end of the county. She’s had a long and close association with the county’s economic development director, Helga van Eckert. (An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported that Sheehan-Jones was the broker on the county’s purchase of the Wachovia bank building.)
Universal Engineering inspected the Sears building for water damage–after being specifically asked to do so by a county official.
“We filed formal claims against the seller, the engineering firm and the realtor,” County Attorney Al Hadeed told commissioners. The claims are being processed. But the offer to the seller presents a way out of a lawsuit–for both sides. “Our demand is that we be repaid for the purchase price that we made on the property and that the cost that we have incurred since then be part of that payment, so that we are made whole,” Hadeed said.
Should the parties reject the offer, the county would move to sell the building immediately, as-is, and would submit a claim to the parties’ insurers to recoup the difference between the selling price and the cost of the building to the county, including the cost of repairs to the building that the county has incurred since taking ownership.
“We believe absolutely that this was a known problem and there is some evidence that there was some effort to conceal the issue,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron said. Documentation of the problem makes it “that much more egregious,” he said.
Hadeed called the offer to the sellers “the most efficient path to give them the opportunity to weigh it out.” He said the county believes the parties will want to resolve the matter “in the least painful way to them,” short of a lawsuit.
The county didn’t have a crying need for the 8,000 square feet of the Sears building. But when Sheehan-Jones let then-County Administrator Craig Coffey know the building would become available, Coffey drew some interest from the tax collector to use it as a satellite location and started the process of buying it.
“Do we have something in place that we’ll never do business with them again?” County Commissioner Greg Hansen asked the administrator and the attorney this evening, referring at least to the engineering firm. Commissioner Joe Mullins wasn’t comfortable with that sort of question being posed at this stage, with a lawsuit potentially hanging over the process. He said commissioners should speak the least about the issue and vote on it. Which they did, at Commissioner Dave Sullivan’s urging. Sullivan had been the one who’d tried to set aside the option to buy last fall.