Embroiled in a multi-year search for a new municipal center, Carrabelle officials are long on debate and short on specifics and cash.
Over the past two weeks Carrabelle’s commissioners have devoted more than five hours to discussing options for relocating City Hall at two separate meetings but remain undecided on the topic.
Commissioners and city staff are anxious to find a new municipal center because the existing building at 1001 Gray Avenue needs a new roof with an estimated cost of $400,000 and because power bills at the facility are $60,000 annually.
On Thursday, Nov. 17, Mayor Brenda La Paz called a special workshop on the topic, attended by commissioners Cal Allen, Frank Mathes and Keith Walden along with contractors and a handful of local citizens. During the three-hour discussion, floor plans and placement of a proposed building on several possible locations were discussed.
Tamara Allen Park and property belonging to Pat Bragdon at the corner of US 98 and North 12th Street were both on the agenda, but discussion of each was tabled because of confusion over the flood rating for the two properties.
When Cliff Butler took the floor to offer two plots of land owned by his family, La Paz told him discussion of buying his offering was premature because the city had not yet approached a bank about financing and did not know how much money was available for the renovation or construction of city hall.
“This is only the first workshop,” La Paz told Butler,
Bruce McCormack, owner of Gulf Unmanned Systems Center (GUSC), also appeared at the workshop to offer GUSC’s corporate headquarters, the old Gulf State Community Bank complex on US 98, to the city as an option. His proposal met with a lukewarm response.
Commissioners also discussed budgeting and funding options for relocating City Hall without settling on a definite strategy.
At the regular city meeting Dec. 1, the topic of City Hall was back on the agenda and a two-hour discussion ensued, including McCormack on the agenda with a revised offer.
Before his presentation La Paz said, “We don’t know what GUSC will come up with next.” Cal Allen scolded her on the remark, calling it “derogatory.”
McCormack said he reduced his original offer of $750,000 to $450,000, with a stipulation that a change be made to his lease on the old Hexaport building on John McInnis Road which has served as his operations center. Under the current agreement, GUSC must employ 30 workers, but due to delayed contracts GUSC has been out of compliance with the clause since February when most of the staff was laid off.
McCormack said he reduced his offer because the city needed a new building and “I want to stay in Carrabelle with my business. I don’t need as big a building as I thought I did.”
Under the new offer, GUSC would retain the Cook Insurance building east of the bank.
Commissioner Olivia Massey first objected to the loss of the bank building from the tax base. Cal Allen said the tax on the complex was $14,100 annually, and that the loss of revenue would be outweighed by lower utility bills at the bank building, estimated by McCormack at $6,000 annually.
La Paz said a state employee who oversaw the original Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to build Hexaport said the city “would be very foolish to give up the job requirement.” La Paz said the commission’s duty “is to make sure we do whatever we can to have jobs in Carrabelle.”
Carrabelle businessman Tony Millender said, “Don’t allow yourself to get painted into a corner. The business and building should be separate.”
Massey’s motion to refuse McCormack’s offer passed 3-2 with Cal Allen and Mathes opposed.
Cal Allen presented commissioners with a spreadsheet roughly outlining the cost of the seven options for a municipal center currently under consideration.
Cal Allen estimated it would cost $460,000 to stay at the current center on Gray Avenue including $400,000 for a new roof and $60,000 annually for utilities. More than $200,000 for plumbing and electrical upgrades were not included in the estimate.
The list included six other properties and each of those estimates contained a sum of $250,000 to demolish the existing municipal complex.
The list included Bragdon’s property discussed at the first workshop. Allen said it would cost $1.3 million to develop, including $1 million for a building and $50,000 for the land.
Two pieces of property belonging to the Butler family were included on the list, a site on Tallahassee Street between the post office and the fire station, and a site behind the former Gulf State Community Bank occupied by four small freestanding commercial buildings. Estimated cost of development for either site was given as $1.25 million, with $1 million for a building and $250,000 for demolition. Costs of site preparation and land cost was unknown for both sites.
Tamara Allen Park on US 98 had an estimated cost of development of $1.35 million, with $100,000 to elevate the building site and $1 million to construct the building. The city owns the land so it need not be purchased.
The old Head Start building at 203 Fifth Street West has an estimated cost of $415,000 for conversion to a municipal center including $165,000 to purchase the structure. The cost of renovation, estimated at more than $200,000, was not included in Allen’s estimate. Some commission and staff members questioned whether the building would be large enough to house the municipal complex.
The mini-mall on US 98 had an estimated price tag of $610,000, $160,000 for the building and $200,000 for renovation.
The cost for GUSC was estimated at $806,200 including $45,000 for an elevator to make the second floor offices ADA compliant, $450,000 for the building and $100,000 for renovation.
Gathena Parmenas, secretary/treasurer for the Franklin County Senior Citizens Center, 201 NW Avenue F, told commissioners she plans to approach her board about selling a disused portion of the senior center grounds to the city for an unknown price.
“If I was sitting on this board, you are not at the decision making stage,” Millender said. “The board needs to determine what the city can afford and that will be your driving force.”
Carrabelle real estate agent Robin Hinton asked, “How much income do we actually have? We have to know how much money we’re talking about.”
La Paz replied that “the only money we really have as a mortgage is (the $60,000) we’re spending on the utilities.” She said there was no money available in the city’s current budget to put toward the purchase.
“We need to know what the school board is going to do,” La Paz said. “The cheapest solution is to stay here.”
Carrabelle staff has approached the school board about returning the old school rather than demolishing it, but the school board responded that, under the terms of Carrabelle’s lease, the city is responsible for providing a venue for The Nest after-school program no matter where City Hall is located.
“We need to decide what we’re going to do before we engage the school board,” said City Attorney Dan Hartman. “I don’t want to let them dictate to us what we do.”
Massey said that if the city demolished the existing municipal complex and built on the Gray Avenue site, income could be generated by selling off part of the property as cemetery plots.
La Paz said the city needs “a strategic plan to solve the problem.”
Hartman said, “When we have a decision on what we are doing the pace of this will increase rapidly.”
Another workshop on relocation city hall is planned for mid-December.