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Selling hospital is slow going

With a minimum bid amount set at $200,000, no potential buyer has yet moved to purchase the old Brooksville Regional Hospital.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- For almost half a year, Hernando County has tried to sell the old Brooksville Regional Hospital property so it can donate the proceeds to a new runaway shelter.

The shelter, which will serve Hernando, Citrus and Sumter county youths, is well under way on land adjacent to the county Sheriff's Office and is set to open in June. The exterior is just about complete, with the windows installed and the roof in place.

Selling the Broad Street hospital site to meet its pledge has not proved so easy for the county. Despite three requests for proposals, not one potential buyer stepped forward.

"We have to go up for bid again," said county Social Services Director Jean Rags, who wants to ask commissioners to extend the deadline to May 10.

Local real estate agent Gary Schraut has a team of investors interested in the 2.4-acre site, which has a market value of $363,000, Rags said. She said the extra time would allow the group to present a proposal.

The commission has set the minimum bid amount at $200,000 and reserved the right to reject all bids.

"I'm trying to get somebody to put something together," Schraut said. The problem, he quickly added, is the shape and location of the property.

"It's difficult to make it work," Schraut said. "That is not an area that is bustling."

But every property has its buyer, he said, and his party is interested. He would not give details.

A sale might have taken place long ago on much better terms if state law did not require governments to get rid of surplus land by bid, County Administrator Paul McIntosh said.

"Right now, we're pretty much at the mercy of somebody who's willing to bid rather than being able to go out and negotiate the sale of a property," McIntosh said.

Legislation pending in the Florida House and passed by the Senate would change the rules in a way that would benefit counties, he said. The bills would allow county commissions to negotiate property sales and use agents, rather than rely solely on legal ads.

"This would enable us to adopt an alternative way of selling surplus property while still ensuring the public interest is being met," McIntosh said. "It enables us to maximize public interest."

Schraut agreed that the bills, which have sailed through committees, would eliminate some of the disadvantages that counties face when selling large properties.

"Buyers just don't walk up to something (listed for) $200,000 and just buy," he said, noting that bid requirements set time lines considered too strict for many people who might be interested.

While the county goes through its protracted sales effort, Rags said, the shelter project is not suffering.

"The board said they would allocate the proceeds, but there was no time frame on that," Rags said. Youth and Family Alternatives "has already made arrangements for a loan for the additional money on the project until this money from the county comes in."

The state Legislature approved $500,000 for the shelter last year, and Youth and Family Alternatives won a $230,000 federal grant to support the construction and equipment costs. Citrus County has promised more than $30,000 in operating costs.

Youth and Family Alternatives, which operates the Runaway Alternatives Project and RAP House in Pasco County, will build the shelter for a maximum of 18 beds but plans to start smaller. Officials do not have an opening date.

Executive Director George Magrill has estimated about 350 youths would pass through the shelter in a year, averaging a week to 10 days per stay. The bulk of the children return home or to another "positive setting," Magrill said.

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