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On second thought, sell vacant hospital

A Times Editorial
Published February 4, 2007


Almost a year ago this newspaper recommended that the Hernando County Commission should pursue the option of renovating the former Brooksville Regional Hospital for the purpose to converting it into government offices.

At that time, renovation was the most viable option because no one had shown interest in buying the property, and a makeover - at approximately $25-million - was about one third the cost estimated to raze the 113,000-square-foot building and erect a new facility.

Things have changed since then. For one, the commission has spent about $360,000 on maintenance and security at the empty building. For another, there now are at least three offers to purchase or lease the property. And, most promising, there are signs the County Commission is exhibiting leadership, commitment and imagination to address the years-old problem of providing adequate facilities for a government that has grown in proportion to Hernando's population and economy.

Those changes are enough for us to change our position. When the commission meets Tuesday to discuss the sale proposals, we urge them to agree to sell the old hospital to the highest bidder. That happens to be a for-profit partnership that is willing to pay $1.1-million for the Brooksville landmark.

The company, 55 Ponce de Leon LLC, says it will invest between $10-million and $13-million to transform the building into an assisted living facility that will employ 461 people. In addition, it plans to convert some of the building into retail office space. Once the facility opens for business, it will pay, depending on the final appraisal, between $147,000 and $213,000 per year in property taxes, plus tangibles tax on the buildings' contents. The county, the school district and the city of Brooksville will take most of that revenue.

The debate about county government's space needs has dragged on because it has been tethered to the issue of what to do with the vacant hospital. Indecision and disagreement, on the commission and in the community, resulted in an expensive impasse. This sale proposal is an opportunity to sever that tie, and for commissioners, their staff and the constitutional officers to address the space crunch head-on.

Central to any solutions are the basic issues of where to locate and how to pay for construction or leasing. We look forward to the commission's ideas Tuesday about finding a revenue source for capital expenditures - after they reach a consensus to release themselves from the hospital.

[Last modified February 4, 2007, 16:28:35]

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