By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
NEW HANOVER - The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners debated extensively Monday November 7, before voting to delay any decision until a date uncertain about purchasing commercial property next door to their existing Government Center.
The property in question is currently home to Break Time Sports Bar and Billiards and Ten Pin Alley.
The Hebert Group LLC is agreeable to selling the property for $2,925,000. After conveying title to the County the Hebert Group would lease the property for an initial seven year term of $28,438 per month.
County Manager Bruce Shell said the purchase will complete their ownership of the Market Place Mall off South College Road.
The former government center was located in downtown Wilmington. That building is still owned by the County.
He said, "This installment that you are looking at tonight is the last piece of that complex that positions New Hanover County and its taxpayers for a very cost-effective approach at acquiring property."
He said the deal would, "Allow us to buy a piece of property without disrupting the business that is successful... where we actually have more money coming in than we have going out."
He said it’s similar to the county buying additional land surrounding the jail to plan for future growth.
County Commissioner Rick Catlin said, "I don't see a clear an immediate defined need for this additional space. I know this is a 15 year plan, but I would hope we could find efficiencies and not be bigger than we are now 15 years from now."
He explained, "We still have other vacant properties that are not being utilized. It concerns me taking property off the tax rolls" causing a loss of property tax revenues.
He said, "That's a great business but in this economy there is no guarantee a tenant can survive... There is no guarantee for us. It's risky without a clearly defined need. It's not something I would support."
Commissioner Brian Berger said he needed more info such as the planned use for the space and a previously requested list of properties the County currently owns before he could make a decision.
He asked to table the item until that information could be provided.
He said the county could consider putting other property on the market to help pay for the purchase.
Commissioner Jason Thompson said if he agreed to table it, he would like to know all of Berger's questions so in the future there will not be further questions.
At a previous meeting, Thompson, Berger and Chairman Jonathan Barfield agreed on the proposal, but later Berger had questions.
Thompson said now that the offer is public, anyone could come along and buy the property. He said someone could, "Buy a piece of property for two-thirds of the note, to have someone else not only pay for the mortgage but to build up nearly half a million dollars in reserves. I probably would have a conflict. If we don't do this, I'll go tomorrow and I'll make a deal like that with you for private business because that's what its all about. That sounds like the best deal I've ever heard of."
Thompson did second Berger's motion to table the item.
Chairman Barfield said it takes visionary leadership to plan for the long term and the deal would pay for itself through lease payments and provide space for future expansion.
He said previous leaders that failed to fund maintenance of the County's incinerator or a building downtown, "That was not visionary leadership. That was looking at what I have in my pocket today and saying I want to get reelected so I won't take care of the things that need to be taken care of and let the chips fall where they may."
Commissioner Ted Davis said he was in office when the county moved to their current location because of issues with their old building. He said, "We were behind the eight ball" at that time because of a clear need. He said, "We're not behind the eight ball now. We don't have to move."
He said he doesn't think it's the wisest move to buy the property.
Thompson moved to put a stop to all spending for the rest of the budget year and to table the item in an attempt to make a point to opposition in the audience.
But that didn't move forward because of the Board's concerns that other items such issuing bonds for the Community College or various purchases already on order.
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