The future of Manatee County’s Old Jail building adjacent to the courthouse is unclear as the more than 80,000-square-foot building continues to sit vacant.
The building, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., was the subject of a county commission work session Tuesday morning after a prospective developer withdrew his proposal last November to turn the building into workforce housing.
The Croghan Company, doing business as Connect Bradenton, had submitted the sole proposal to the county to transform the Old Jail building from its current condemned state into workforce housing. But Bernard Croghan decided to withdraw the proposal after several community leaders, including then-Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, sent a letter in opposition.
“It’s a nightmare but to me, it’s a nightmare worth sleeping through for the end product,” Croghan said of the building on Tuesday. “This letter went out there with such strength. This was not just concerns. It was an attack. ... I still believe in the project. I hope you all do something.”
Currently planning another project, Croghan, who only does one project at a time, said the county and the constitutional officers have to settle their issues.
“I wouldn’t come back until that was done,” he said Tuesday.
But the constitutional officers who spoke at Tuesday’s work session, including Sheriff Rick Wells, said their concerns are no different than they were months ago.
“I don’t personally feel that we can secure the courthouse,” Wells said.
Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court Angelina “Angel” Colonneso said during an initial meeting in January 2016, there was no go-ahead given.
“We heard nothing until six months later when we read about it in the paper that an ITN went out,” she said. “Had we been brought in at the first place, maybe it would be found that this would have been an impossibility.”
When asked whether there is a future for the building, Wells said, “I would never want to say that there is not opportunity for that building.”
“I think it comes down to financing, the county having money to fix it up and have it used for another county entity,” he added.
It currently costs the county approximately $143,000 per year to maintain the Old Jail building, according to Tuesday’s presentation.
“That is costing us money,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. “It would be good to have some vitality in the community.”
It will now be up to the county commission as to the future of the building.
“To allow that space to sit there as is makes no logical sense to me at all,” said Commissioner Charles Smith, who suggested tearing the building down. “We’ve got to do something with that space. ... No matter what we do, we have to deal with the jail. It is valuable space there. We are going to have to deal with it one way or another.”
After hearing from the sheriff and other officials, Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said it is a compelling argument to not have housing in the building.
“I just think we need to consider the cost and expenses of tearing it down and freeing up that space for something that is more appropriate,” she said.