Earlier this month, county commissioners asked architect Warren Emo to estimate the total renovation cost for the Coombs Armory.
Last week he told them the price tag is $2.3 million.
In an elaborate presentation at the Feb. 18 meeting, Emo laid out two possible options for renovating the historic structure, dividing the repairs and upgrades into three phases.
He told commissioners that since the last meeting, structural engineers found water damage in their explorations of area under the building and. Emo said multiple overlays of pavement on Avenue D have affected drainage, causing support to wash out and leaving the floor spongy under the southwest corner.
Inside the building, there is a visible irregularity in the floor and a two-inch gap has formed between the floor and baseboard in the southwest corner, he said.
Emo said flooding around the main entrance is also a problem that needs to be addressed. “There’s not a lot of stormwater control out there and the sidewalk’s in pretty bad condition,” he said. “We’re looking at new sidewalk all around the perimeter.”
He said the new plan would create a paved 18-space parking lot, and an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant entry on the north side of the building.
Under either option Phase 1 of the construction would include adding a new warming kitchen, making the structure ADA compliant, installing hurricane-proof windows in the northern wing and installing a fire sprinkler system in the north wing and heating and air conditioning for the entire building.
Other changes include possible ways to relocate bathrooms and conference rooms, creating an equipment yard for exterior equipment and adding a ticket office. The price tag would also include additional planning and design.
Emo set the cost for Phase 1 at $1.3 million. He said, with funding in place, the project could be complete by year’s end.
Phase 2 would involve cleaning and painting interior surfaces and refinishing floors. The windows in the main auditorium would be replaced and a sprinkler system installed. The acoustics in the building would be corrected and an audiovisual system “roughed in.” One of the offices on the upper floor would be converted to a media room.
This phase would cost an estimated $769,000 and could be completed by May 25, 2015 if funding was in place.
Phase 3 would deal with exterior work, including revisions to parking, landscaping, a new stormwater system and outdoor lighting. Emo suggested installing outdoor cooking facilities and dining area. He said streetlights similar to those already downtown would be installed.
The final phase of the renovation would cost an estimated $300,000 and could be complete by July 2015.
Emo said changes in both proposed plans would bring the Armory up to more current code and more consistent historical perspective. He said the main difference between the two possible interior designs is the location of the kitchen.
“We are looking at something that would stand the test of time,” he said.
“I want to know where the money’s coming from,” said Commissioner William Massey said. “I love the Armory. It’s a good building. I couldn’t vote to put the county in that kind of debt. In 20 years, I’ll be dead and gone and still be cussed. If we have a storm and we put this county in debt for almost $3 million on this project, the county will be in a mess.”
Emo said his firm had not been asked to do a business report. “That may be a logical outcome because this is a tremendous asset,” he said. “People love the building in its current state but there are restrictions for how you can use it and for what you can charge for use. There are issues in the building that, if not mitigated and corrected are just going to get worse.
“Properly managed it could not only start making some money itself but filling up a lot of hotel rooms,” Emo said. “Filling up a lot of restaurants, caterers and that sort of thing.”
Commissioner Smokey Parrish asked how much money had been allocated to repairs over the next year.
Tourist Development Council Administrator Curt Blair said, with uncollected but expected revenue, the TDC could provide roughly $500,000 for the project to be spent within the next eight or 10 months and about $200,000 annually after that.
“If we could get historic grants that would be different,” said Commissioner Cheryl Sanders said. “That is not to say Mr. Emo didn’t do a good job. I don’t think anybody on this commission can go with a $3 million project. We need to get together as a board and see what we can do. We need to put this on a back burner.”
Emo said he thought “the smart thing to do, now that we’ve got it broken out, would be to work with either staff or a committee to come back with a recommended scope of work and to establish a business profile for funding to see how it would work financially. We commend you for having the vision to want to look at the whole thing. We’re tickled about what could happen.”
Sanders said, “Mr. Emo you’ve got to understand we’re not Leon County. We pay as we go.”
Sanders instructed Emo to discuss what changes were essential to stabilizing the building with county staff and the board thanked him for his presentation.
Pierce said the additional time would be covered by funds already paid to Emo.
“I’m hoping that there are some historical grants to help with funding sources to complete these projects,” said Parrish.
“We could almost pay for Phase 1 with the existing funds we have,” Commissioner Pinki Jackel said. “If we could pass a simple majority vote of 1 percent increase in the TDC tax, that would generate almost half a million dollars revenue in the next 12 months. So, we could pay cash for Phase 1. That 1 percent is usable for these types of funding programs and then we would not be hamstrung with rest of the marketing.”