Public expresses concerns over sale of Hayneville Plaza

Published 3:25 am Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
Despite a standing room only crowd of concerned citizens, the Lowndes County Commission took no action to reconsider the sale of the Hayneville Plaza for $125,000to Bell Ventures at its regular fourth Monday night meeting.
Commissioner Dickson Farrior called the sale a ”done deal.”
The sale of the Hayneville Plaza, which was purchased with a $3.5 bond issue for use in connection with a broadband project for which a $56 million grant was terminated in 2012, sparked controversy Monday as a crowd of concerned citizens appeared to request the commission to reconsider the sale it approved on Nov. 9.
County Commission Chairman Robert Harris, the only member of the commission to vote against the sale, questioned the $123,000 fair market value of the building. He also said, “The building should have been auctioned off or put up for bid to give everybody a fair chance. We are picking winners and losers here.”
Harris said, “Go back and look through the numbers and you will see that the appraised value was $198,000. The law says you’ve got to be at fair market value. So, how they come up with $125,000, I have no idea. That is not fair market value.”
Farrior said the sale of the building is “a done deal.” He also said, “To me this is a way to salvage something out of a real bad deal.” He said the result will be hardware store, which will bring jobs.
Farrior said, “The building has been empty for two years. We couldn’t get insurance on it. It’s a liability. Nobody’s come and said a word about it to us… was interested in it at all. Then when we try to do something, everybody’s interested in it.”
He said of the sale, “I think this is going be good for the county… for the town of Hayneville. It’s just a good thing.”
Joe Bell Jr. of Bell Ventures, which is purchasing the building, said tearing the building down is the only option. When asked if he would sell if given an offer, Bell said, “Our specific goal is to bring in an Ace Hardware Store… We want to stay focused on our plan.” He confirmed the plan is to locate the new store where the Hayneville Plaza now stands.
In answer to a question from Harris as whether Bell had asked to purchase the building when he came before the commission, Bell said, “I did not. I only presented my plan around economic development and how I believed it could support the community.”
Hayneville Mayor David Daniel said it disturbed him to learn that the Hayneville Plaza would be torn down. He said he had hoped that a grant could be used to bring the building up to code so it could be insured and rented for office space.
“I hate to see that building go,” Daniel said. “The town of Hayneville is willing to work with the county to try to find grants to bring it up to par…” While he said he believed in a Ace Hardware Store, he said another piece of land could be found for that purpose.
Daniel also said, “I believe that personal interests should not be involved in anything.”
In answer to a question from Hayneville Town Council member Kim Payton, County Attorney Hank Sanders replied that the commission passed a resolution selling it to a corporate entity (Bell Ventures).
Payton informed the commission that the town of Hayneville has great interest in purchasing the building. She said she would like for the commission to consider the town purchasing the building “because there are so many great things we would like to see to come there besides just tearing the building down.”
She said a call center would house 100 to 200 jobs. She also indicated that a dialysis center would be a fit for the first floor.
In answer to a question from Payton to the commissioners individually, Sanders said, “The commission acts as a whole not as individuals. And I expect that you will have some litigation coming up about this. And my direction would be to avoid any problems about that. I would ask that you not direct questions to individual commissioners.”
Helenor Bell, former mayor of Hayneville and current economic developer and project manager for the town of Hayneville, said commissioner owed it to the citizens to speak.
She said, “We’re here asking you not to sell the building and let it be torn down. If you sell it, we will buy it… We do not want the building torn down.”
Bell also said, “Any permits, any demolition, anything that you do in the town of Hayneville, it’s subject to the ordinances of the town of Hayneville.”
She told Joe Bell Jr. that the town was proud of him for bringing an Ace Hardware store to Hayneville. She said, “We would do whatever we need to do to work with you so that Ace Hardware is here in town of Hayneville.”
However, Helenor Bell told commissioners, “We can no longer allow you drive economic development and drive businesses out of town.” She said a successful pharmacist who was grossing $1 million a year and other businesses were displaced from the Hayneville Plaza.
She said, ”At this point, we take charge… and we stand together as mayor, council and as the citizens of Hayneville, and we say to you that we would like for the building to stay. We would not like for the building to be demolished. And we will take whatever steps necessary to make sure that it stays.”
Payton added, “Also, if the building is sold for hardware, we will not allow for it to be torn down. We will not issue a building permit.”
Probate Judge John E. Hulett told the commission, “We don’t need to jump on the governor. We’ve got problems at home.” He said of the Hayneville Plaza situation, “You started off wrong… you got it. Now you’re going to do wrong again to get rid of it.” He asked the commission to reconsider what they are doing and open the sale of the building to the public.
Hulett informed the commission that attorneys are looking at the sale of the building and questioned the commission’s authority to sell it. He also said, “If another government entity wanted to buy it, they should have first choice.”
Harris said the Attorney General stated, “The county can sell the building directly to someone, but they also said it is not a practical business ideal to do that, that it should be auctioned to the public.”
He asked that decision to sell the Hayneville Plaza be reconsidered. And he questioned the difference between a $198,000 fair market value and the $125,000 amount for which it is being sold.
Sanders attempted to clear up some facts. “There seems to be some confusion as to whether a written offer was made by the Bell group, and a written offer was made.”
He also said of the Hayneville Plaza, “Mr. Chairman, you know that it got to the point that you could not insure the building because the building was in bad shape. You know that at least four or five determinations were made that it would take $800,000 to redo the building. And it wouldn’t be worth more than $800,000 once it was done.”
He said, “The people in the building had to move because you couldn’t have insurance on it. And if something happened, the county would be exposed to a lot of liability. So that’s why the people in the building had to leave.”
And Sanders said of the appraisal of the Hayneville Plaza, “If you look at that bottom line what they said it was worth. They said $123,000and some.”
Harris countered, “It said market value opinion 56,628 square feet at $3.50 per square foot equals $198,000 market value less demolition is $75,000, which equals out to $123,000. So the market value is $198,000 and not $123,000.
But Sanders replied, “Right here on the very first page, the final opinion of value is $123,000. That’s what you end on.”
Harris said the town of Hayneville has offered $300,000 and would do whatever repairs it took to get the building up to code. He said, ”Mr. Bell (Joe Jr.) did not do none of that.” And Harris said he did not know the building was up for sale until the day of the (Nov. 9) meeting.
Sanders stressed, “There was no secret meeting,” but the vote to sell came at a regular commission meeting.
In a question of procedure in connection with the Hayneville Plaza as to who could sign documents if the commission chairman were unavailable or refused to sign, Harris said, “The chairman signs whatever document that is approved by the board… If there are documents that the board (commission) approved for whatever reason, I have no problem because the majority wins. Okay, I want that to be known for the record.”
The commission took no action to reconsider the sale of the Hayneville Plaza.

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