PALMETTO — Several concerns were raised Thursday about the Community Redevelopment Agency board’s approval of the proposed sale of a property purchased for $764,500 to a developer for only $100,000.
The city commission, acting as the CRA board, approved Monday the offer of Dr. Karen Raimer and Dr. Mark Alkire to purchase the old 12,000-square-foot CBI Building, 924 Fifth St. W., for $100,000 and add a brick veneer facade with stucco accents.
The doctors plan to convert the old metal building into medical office space and possibly an art gallery, antique shop or other artisan/craftsman use.
Local business owner Jim Amerson sent an e-mail message to Mayor Shirley Groover-Bryant expressing his concerns about the sale.
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“Please do not conduct a fire sale on a piece of property worth considerably more, even in today’s market,” the e-mail read.
Amerson said in a telephone interview Thursday he was probably the largest land and building owner in the city, with about 45 businesses leasing more than 100,000-square-feet of office and warehouse space.
“I asked the commissioners to call me to discuss this,” he said. “I would buy every 8,000 square-foot building for $100,000 they have to sell.”
The life-long Palmetto resident whose family has owned a local business since the 1920s, said the city should not sell the property just because of the bad economic conditions.
“They should hold on to it until the economy gets better,” he said. “I don’t understand what they were doing.”
In another e-mail message to the city commission, Phil Guercio wrote that selling the property at a loss of more than $500,000 from the original purchase price is unacceptable.
“Even in today’s depressed market a rapid sale is not prudent even when offset by any potential downtown development,” Guercio wrote.
In a telephone interview the Palmetto resident said he did not think the proposed sale would benefit the city.
“If they’re going to use city funds the theory is to redevelop an area and provide an opportunity to create jobs,” Guercio said. “I see it as a giveaway to someone who wants to put medical office space in a city that has empty office space now.”
Commissioner Brian Williams said he thought the proposal was good for the city.
“The doctors will develop a wonderful business center,” Williams said. “That is evident by what they did with their home (on Riverside Drive).”
He said they spent more than $500,000 on rehabilitating the historic Lamb home.
“It’s very unfortunate the CRA purchased the building at a time when property values were inflated,” Williams said.
Even if the property would be appraised at $200,000-$250,000 in today’s market, he said, the redevelopment will bring more to the community and also put the property back on the tax rolls.
Community development agencies are government bodies that receive a portion of property taxes to spend in a specific district to alleviate blight.
Groover-Bryant said the CRA had to make a financial decision based on the cost of keeping the building.
The North River Fire District told the city a sprinkler system had to be installed in the building.
“We were really at a crossroad with the sale,” the mayor said. “We had to either tear it down or install the sprinklers to keep it up to code”
She said the proposed project will be an asset and conform to the historic architectural style in the area.
“It’s more than what we’re selling it at,” Groover-Bryant said. “The doctors will probably spend more than $1 million on the project.”
Interim director of the CRA, Jeff Burton, said the agency received only one response to the advertised request for proposals.
Burton said the property was deemed surplus and the CRA board did not think an appraisal was necessary.
He said even if there was an appraisal, there probably would not have been any more bids because the economy is so bad.
“We have the property next to the CRA offices for sale and have not received any bids,” Burton said. “There really is not a lot of demand in the market.”
He said the board saw the value the proposal would bring to the area when it made its decision.
Commissioner Alan Zerkelbach, who was on the appointed CRA board in 2006 when the property was purchased, said the agency purchased the building because it was in deteriorating condition and was reflecting poorly on the Main Street business district.
At the time, Manatee Players was looking at property in Palmetto for a new theater location and the CRA offered the site, but the organization decided instead to build on the Sandpile in Bradenton.