The Cleveland County Commissioners voted 2-1 to enter into a contract to purchase the entire Financial Services Center building for $7.3 million during their Monday meeting.
The motion increased the proposed contract purchase price from $7.2 to $7.3 million. The move comes after the commissioners voted 2-1 to purchase two floors of the same building for $1.8 on March 22.
As part of the commissioners’ motion on the contract, District 3 Commissioner Harold Haralson designated attorney Sean Rieger to act as the commissioners’ spokesman, excusing Haralson and Chairman Darry Stacy from speaking to The Transcript about the purchase.
District 1 Commissioner Rod Cleveland voted no, and told The Transcript his reasons for declining the purchase of the building were the same they were when he resisted the purchase of the third and fifth floors.
Cleveland said commissioners have not justified the specific needs for the purchase, which also came on the heels of a now-halted pursuit to build a parking garage at the courthouse.
“This is taxpayer money. This isn’t my money,” he said. “My questions … that have not been comfortably discussed publicly is: what is the urgent need to purchase the building and what are the immediate solutions, considering that we are only six months after we went out for an RFP (request for proposal) for architects and we were almost approving an architect to start designing the parking garage?
“Part of the parking garage could have been an immediate solution on what needs, as far as a little additional office space goes. (Then), take the rent we pay for the sheriff’s office and build a sheriff’s office for which we have public safety sales tax money that could help build that part out … that’s been specifically preserved for the sheriff’s office and law enforcement.”
Fellow commissioners have not previously stated specific uses for the building other than additional office space; Rieger did not list the specific offices that might move to the new location.
Tenants occupy as much as 75% of the building, Cleveland said. The Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office occupies the top floor.
Rieger told The Transcript following the meeting that location, especially when expansion is involved, is a driving force in value. The building, located at 111 N. Peters Ave., is walking distance to the Cleveland County Courthouse.
“If I was in business or an organization saying I need something new, you have a lot more flexibility on what you want to purchase,” he said. “But when you’re expanding an existing place that is not going anywhere (the courthouse), then you are pretty limited in a very tight circle. When opportunities like this come up, it’s pretty special.”
Rieger noted that leases, which will be allowed to continue at this time, offset the purchase price.
“If you’re building a new building and you build for greater than what you need, then you have an empty building,” he said. “Here, if you buy for gross space, you can keep those tenants in there and have the income from it.”.
When asked if the county is getting into the business of being a landlord, Rieger said, “No. Not at all.”
The county assessor’s cash value for the building is $3.8 million based on property tax records.