County commissioners voted Tuesday to complete renovations of the Fort Coombs Armory and create a new visitor center for Eastpoint over the next 11 months, at a combined cost of $300,000 to $500,000.
At the county commission meeting, Commissioner Pinki Jackel reported on an in-house assessment of the former Florida Highway Patrol station in Eastpoint. For the past year, she has advocated using Tourist Development Council (TDC) funds to transform the site into a visitor center and maritime history museum.
She said the building has been “abandoned and vandalized” and is in “very poor condition,” describing it as a block building with a “pretty good roof.” Jackel said it needs both cosmetic work and interior repairs.
Jackel said Poloronis Construction of Apalachicola estimated the cost of renovation at around $120,000.
“Some items are in flux,” she said. “Several items we’re not sure about until we dig around and a couple we can opt out of. We hope we can get it in at under $100,000.”
In response to Chair Cheryl Sanders’ request last month for a business plan, Jackel said a $35,000 stipend previously awarded by the TDC to the Eastpoint Visitor Center would pay for “electricity, water, telephone service, postage and all other regular budgeted expenses.”
Jackel said revenues for the TDC exceeded expenses for the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. She said payments promised for renovations to the Armory, and for Seafood Workers Park, formerly Lombardi Seafood, had been made.
“We have $61,000 to carry forward for the Armory,” she said. “Funding for Lombardi and the Armory will not be dipped into.”
Commissioners designated the Armory as a convention center in May 2011 and began renovation of the building under the direction of architect Warren Emo, after Steve Goodman and Carl Holliday, of Indianapolis, Ind., sought to lease the building and privately fund its restoration for use as a venue for weddings.
The county moved to earmark more than $230,000 for renovations in 2011-12, with Sanders stipulating that the TDC “use any and all excess funding that is not already encumbered to renovate the Armory and complete the Lombardi Seafood Landing project so it will satisfy the requirements in its management plan including the completion of the maritime heritage museum” planned for the park west of Apalachicola.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Noah Lockley objected to the Eastpoint project.
“We need to discuss this thing first,” he said. “We have a project open which is the Armory. We’re not finished with it. We have visitor centers open in Carrabelle and Apalachicola. We support them. We never just took a county building and gave it to them.
“I haven’t seen anybody in the audience say they support this. I have no problem furnishing them with the $35,000. We might want to check and see if it’s legal to have a private organization come in here and we furnish them with a building,” he said.
Jackel has proposed having a not-for-profit entity run the proposed visitor center. She noted that the St. George Island visitor center is a county owned building managed by a not-for-profit. “I’m sure I could come up with some others,” she said.
“"I want to make sure we fulfill our commitment to the Armory,” said Sanders. “I am in favor of (the Eastpoint Visitor Center), but I’m not sure how that’s going to affect the Armory and Lombardi.”
Sanders said she received numerous complaints about the Armory’s lack of air conditioning after the King Retsyo Ball held there Friday night.
TDC Director Curt Blair said money for the Eastpoint center could come from the TDC’s contingency reserve.
“We’re always over budget,” he said. “I can’t predict what we’re going to need for the Armory at this point. We’re expecting an additional $200,000 in revenue. We’ll have the final numbers in December.”
Lockley said, “We’re piecemealing the armory. Last year (the TDC) said they didn’t have any money. Now they’re coming up with some.”
Jackel said the Armory renovation was “a three-year project.”
Lockley asked why the Eastpoint center wasn’t a three-year project too. He said the county could construct a new building of the same size for less than it will cost to renovate the highway patrol building.
Sanders said she was surprised at the high cost of the renovation. “I thought it would be around $60,000,” she said.
“I originally thought it would be around $90,000,” Jackel said. “We ran some numbers. Mr. Poloronis was looking at the worst case.”
Commissioner Smokey Parrish said he shared Lockley’s concerns. “To me it’s not quite equitable,” he said.
Jackel moved the county go out for bids to renovate the highway patrol station with a cap of $100,000 on the project. The motion passed 3-2, with Lockley and Parrish opposed.
“I have to vote for it not to exceed $100,000,” said Sanders. “That’s the only reason I go with that.”
Lockley then moved the TDC provide money to finish renovations to the Armory over the next fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, 2014. The motion passed unanimously.
County Planner Alan Pierce said he could not be sure of the cost of completing armory renovations.
He said the county spent more than $240,000 on the project over the last fiscal year replacing the roof and dealing with other moisture-related issues. Pierce said the next step would be replacing the wiring and plumbing, and that each of these upgrades could run around $100,000.
“The upgrade to the kitchen is undefined,” he said.
Pierce said the cost of furnishing the building with central heat and air conditioning was also an unknown.