Interest limited for old hospital

Published January 29, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Three Florida companies pitched their ideas last week for the vacant Brooksville Hospital: a foster care facility, a drug and alcohol rehab center, or an assisted living center mixed with shops and offices.

The county received 35 inquiries after electronic mailings to 600,000 potential buyers, said Mike McHugh, director of the county's Office of Business Development.

"So it's a building with limited appeal, you could say," McHugh said.

The county took ownership of the hospital in late 2005, after the hospital moved from Ponce de Leon Boulevard to its new facility on Cortez Boulevard. Since then, the County Commission has debated converting the building into a new government center and leaving the Main Street government center to the ever-expanding court system.

Meanwhile, the old hospital costs as much as $50,000 a month to maintain.

The county's costly indecision figured largely into the campaign rhetoric of the two newest commissioners: Rose Rocco and Dave Russell.

In an attempt to make good on their campaign pledges, both supported an early March deadline for a final decision.

The County Commission has several options: Keep the building vacant and continue to pay to maintain it; demolish it and hold onto the property for future use; convert it into a county government center; or sell or lease it.

Despite the limited response to the mailings, the offers might still have an attraction for the County Commission, McHugh said. For example, the mixed-use proposal offered to let Hernando County Fire Rescue retain its building there for free.

The county might also be able to negotiate lease arrangements for office space within the complex, County Administrator Gary Kuhl said. These are some of the options McHugh and Kuhl plan to present to the County Commission at its Feb. 6 meeting.

The deadline for proposals was Thursday. McHugh said Friday afternoon that he'd taken a preliminary look.

The foster care proposal, put together by a South Florida group, contained the fewest details. The rehab proposal came from a group affiliated with Narconon, a nonprofit drug rehab program. The mixed-use proposal came from a Tampa group that already operates assisted living facilities in the county.

Commissioner Diane Rowden said selling the property has a triple benefit: It relieves the county of the costly burden of maintenance, puts the property back on the county tax rolls and might give area residents another much-needed assisted living facility.

"I think that having an additional assisted living facility in this county is very important, and I have been learning through experience with my mother," Rowden said. "There are not enough choices out there for our citizens."

But that benefit will have to be weighed against the cost of finding room elsewhere for the county's growing staff, she said.

Kuhl declined to release the amount of the offers, not wanting to jeopardize future negotiations. However, that information will be available next week when the options are presented to the board, he said.

An appraisal - done more than a year ago - valued the property at just more than $1-million, Kuhl said.

But it was unclear how much the buildings are worth.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at 352754-6127 or aloder@sptimes.com.