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Site has bids; will county sell?

By ASYLYN LODER
Published February 3, 2007


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Hernando commissioners appear increasingly willing to sell off the old Brooksville Hospital, ridding the county of the costly upkeep while securing some much-needed cash.

The offers to buy the 11-acre complex ranged from $500,000 to $2.5-million, disappointingly short of the property appraiser's estimate of $9.7-million.

However, with two new commissioners pushing to reach a decision quickly, and maintenance costing up to $50,000 a month, selling it off has its benefits.

"You have to take into consideration the other part of that," said Commissioner Diane Rowden, "Not just the money that they're offering."

The County Commission appeared poised last year to turn the 11-acre complex on Ponce de Leon Boulevard into a new government center. But with a renovation price tag that could top $20-million, and no way to pay for it, commissioners are looking for ways to get out from under the costly upkeep on the vacant buildings.

"The board, I think, wants to look at what's best for the community," said Mike McHugh, director of the county's Office of Business Development.

Commissioner Rose Rocco said she'd like to see the county-owned land back in private hands, and back on the tax rolls.

"The hospital is really nothing more than a financial drain right now," Rocco said.

The three offers include:

- The Children's Network University, based in Hollywood, Fla., offered to buy the building for $500,000 for use as a children's center. The proposal contained few details, including how the purchase and renovation would be paid for. As a nonprofit, this use would not generate tax revenue, McHugh said.

- Narconon of Greater Tampa Bay Inc. offered to lease the building for $20,000 a month for two years, with an option to buy for $2.5-million. Narconon applies the works of L. Ron Hubbard in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction and is affiliated with the Association of Better Living and Education and the Church of Scientology. The organization proposed $500,000 in renovations to make the building a residential treatment center that would employ 50 people. Narconon is also a nonprofit and offered to allow Hernando County Fire Rescue to remain at the site for free.

- A group of four investors based in Tampa offered to purchase the site for $1.1-million and invest $10-million to $13-million in creating a mixed-use development that will include an assisted living facility, along with commercial and office space.

The complex, to be named the Oaks Towne Centre, would employ 461 people. The development would pay $147,638 to $213,809 a year in taxes to be shared among the county, the city of Brooksville and the School Board, according to county estimates. The developers also proposed a three-year lease for $1 for space currently used by Hernando County Fire Rescue.

Bill Rain, managing partner of the investment group proposing the Oaks Towne Centre, said he has redeveloped more than a million square feet of "creative reuse" space. Another of the four investors, Terence J. McCarthy, manages two Hernando County assisted living facilities, Spring Oaks and Forest Oaks. The other two investors have the business experience and the money to make the project a success, Rain said.

The group's proposal - by far the most detailed of the three - included using "green" building technology. The group also included the possibility of building space for Pasco Hernando Community College's medical arts program, which could then partner with the assisted living facility to create internship and job training opportunities.

The project would take 12 to 18 months to complete.

The County Commission will consider the proposals at its meeting Tuesday.

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

[Last modified February 2, 2007, 20:43:06]


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