After three years in Carrabelle, the Gulf Unmanned Systems Center (GUSC) is relocating, and Carrabelle’s City Hall may move to the Hexaport building.
At the Thursday, March 2 city meeting Carrabelle Mayor Brenda La Paz said there had been a flat bed truck parked at the Hexaport building and that and CEO Bruce McCormack had been selling items from the Hexaport building online through the Franklin County Yard Sale on Facebook.
“They have sold everything,” she said.
She said an overhead frame left in the building by GreenSteel when they abandoned the factory had been removed.
City Attorney Dan Hartman said the contents of the Hexaport building, it could be argued, were GUSC’s property unless mentioned in the lease as fixtures of the building.
An addendum to the lease states that equipment belonging to the city is described in Exhibit B. Exhibit B lists no equipment.
In an interview after the meeting, Hartman said he had not yet been able to review the May 2014 lease. Tallahassee attorney Matt Mathews had prepared the document, after Hartman recused himself from the negotiations after La Paz alleged he had a conflict of interest because his name appeared on a grant document as a member of GUSC’s board of directors.
At the time, McCormack said the listing was a typographical error and that Hartman should have been designated as a local contact, not a member of the board.
At last week’s meeting, Hartman said items designated in the lease as fixtures belonged to the city but this did not necessarily extend to other contents of the building like the lift.
Tony Millender said Tony Attalla, who now manufactures his GreenSteel modular homes in Andalusia, Alabama, had come to reclaim the lift and other equipment last week.
Beginning in 2007, Attalla’s GreenSteel operation had preceded GUSC at the Hexaport building, before eventually going bankrupt in 2009.
Millender said the GreenSteel frame could be worth thousands of dollars but Steve Allen, a former employee of GreenSteel, said the estimate was too high. “It’s really just a hoist,” he said.
In a telephone interview, McCormack confirmed Attalla had taken the equipment and that he (McCormack) had charged only a fee for his time.
“I suggest the city administration get (to the Hexaport building) as soon as possible and take a look,” La Paz said. “We should ask the chief to have the police patrol (Hexaport) several times a day.”
She said the gate to the factory grounds needed to be repaired.
In the wake of GreenSteel’s 2009 bankruptcy, during a period when Centennial Bank took possession of the lease, the 65,000 square foot Hexaport building sat empty until Feb, 2014, when after much negotiation, Carrabelle city commissioners voted unanimously to lease the building. The lease was signed three months later, on May 14.
GUSC agreed to pay $10 per year to lease the factory for the first 15 years, after which the cost of rent would be adjusted. GUSC also pledged to employ 10 people full time with medical benefits during its first year in operation, increase this by 10 the second year and was to have had 30 employees by the end of the third year, with a preference for Carrabelle residents.
McCormack housed a test facility for unmanned systems, commonly referred to as drones, inside the Hexaport building. By Dec. 2015, McCormack had employed 14 people, and said that the majority were Carrabelle residents. But in Jan. 2016 he released most of his staff, he said, because government research projects remained unfunded.
At the Sept. 2016 Carrabelle meeting, Mayor Brenda LaPaz grilled McCormack on the status of GUSC and contracts it held. She said she had been unable to verify several of the contracts McCormack claimed he held.
However, commissioners voted unanimously to allow Gulf Unmanned System Center (GUSC) an additional six months to come back into compliance with their lease.
Allen said McCormack made many repairs to the Hexaport building including replacing wiring stolen by looters. He said McCormack had installed offices in the building.
“The building is in better shape now than when (McCormack) took it,” Allen said.
Millender said he had visited Hexaport on Feb. 24 and everything appeared to be intact.
Hartman said the fact that McCormack is voluntarily vacating the building saves the city the time and expense of an eviction. He said Carrabelle could not force GUSC to vacate immediately.
The city attorney said McCormack’s voluntary surrender meant that the city rather than the bank now has control of the lease. “That’s a good thing,” he said.
Greg Kristofferson suggested someone should occupy Hexaport to prevent a new round of vandalism and looting.
Later in the meeting, when discussing the need for a new location for City Hall it was suggested the offices be moved to Hexaport.
LaPaz said the city would have to arrange a site where water and sewer fees could be dropped in downtown Carrabelle because of the long drive to the John McInnis Road location..
McCormack said Police Chief Gary Hunnings and members of the city staff visited Hexaport Friday to inspect the building.
He said GUSC will now set up operations in a 40,000-square-foot facility to be constructed on the industrial canal three miles north of Port St. Joe.
McCormack said he has requested a recording of the March 2 Carrabelle city meeting, which he did not attend.