First Southern seeks five-year lease of city garage

Published 12:16 am Friday, July 21, 2017

Editor’s Note: The proposal highlighted in the article below was rescinded prior to the town hall meeting, according to Stanford Mayor Eddie Carter. 

Photo by Abigail Whitehouse

STANFORD – A local bank’s proposal to lease the city garage and take over the utility bills, maintenance and repair was called a ‘win-win’ by some council members and residents during the July 6 meeting. But, after considering the public’s recent reaction to proposed changes downtown, the council decided to hold a town hall meeting first before giving approval.
The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, July 20 (today) at 6:30 p.m. at the L&N Depot and is an invitation to the public to voice any concerns or questions they might have about the lease proposal.
First Southern National Bank presented the city council with the 5-year lease proposal, which seeks a $1 per five-year rate, under the condition that there would be no interference with the actual parking garage and the bank would invest $10,000 in that time for repair and maintenance of the building.
The museum portion of the building is the true interest of the proposal, according to FSNB Facilities Manager David Sullivan, who said the hopes are to move the local ice cream shop 4 Generations into that space once it’s renovated.
“With that stipulation, all the artifacts that are in there that are related to the museum would stay indefinitely and will be preserved and hung up and a part of whatever would be in that space,” Sullivan said. “Nothing like that would be removed.”
Sullivan said FSNB would use that $10,000 to manage everything from air conditioning, electricity, water, roofing, brick-work, gutters and other maintenance and up-keep issues.
Councilwoman Sara Givens asked Sullivan why FSNB is interested in taking on all the responsibility related to the building.
“The same reason we take on responsibility for some of the things we do – we have a love for this town and it costs money,” Sullivan said.
Carter said the city has just recently finished paying off $300,000 for the building and freed up money that could be used for what FSNB is proposing to do.
“We just got it paid off. We know there are some issues that need to be done, the awning needs to be replaced and I got a price on that…” Carter said. “The roof is in good shape, it does need painting. I’ve got mixed feelings about it.”
Carter said he appreciates what FSNB does but he still has mixed feelings about leasing the whole building.
City Attorney Christopher Reed calculated some of the savings that the city would receive over five years as part of the proposal which includes about $1,800 for water, $4,500 for electricity – a total of $6,300 in utility payments alone.
“So technically, the average citizen driving into the garage would never know the difference,” said Councilman Ronnie Deatherage. Sullivan agreed and added that about $10-15,000 would be invested by FSNB to renovate the museum portion of the building.
Councilwoman Peggy Hester asked if the city would have any authority over which businesses or entities are chosen to occupy the museum space, if the ice cream shop were to choose another location or move. Sullivan said they could negotiate that with the city.
“I think that we should have some oversight,” Hester said.
At the end of the five-year lease the terms are negotiable again.
“I’ll be honest with you, I just thought you wanted the museum,” Carter said. “…the council here makes the decision but I was all for the museum.”
The entire building is included so they can maintain the entire building, Sullivan said.
At the end of the lease it reverts back to the city, Reed said.
Carter and Hester both questioned potential conflicts of events, if FSNB needed to use the garage but Sullivan assured the council they would not need to use the garage because FSNB has another garage downtown.
Public perception was a concern for councilman Naren James, as far as leasing a public space, he said. Carter agreed.
“I think the public perception would be tremendous…with all the controversy we have had…I’m just telling you, it would be… the public out here, we’re giving this over for $1 to a million-dollar company or whatever you’re worth,” Carter said. “The public perception of it will be…I’ve just got mixed feelings about it.”
Reed asked the council if the city wanted to use the museum space for something else, would they have an extra $15,000 to renovate the museum building.
“Chris, I know you’re an advocate for them but we’re not broke,” Carter said.
“No, I’m an advocate for knowledge for the council,” Reed responded.
Comments from three Stanford residents in attendance supported the proposal, specifically as taxpayers, they said.
“I think if you show the figures and how it pans out, how much money it’s costing us to have this garage, this is how much money we’re going to save by not having that cost  – I think as a taxpayer I would be happy to have you spend that money on improving the sidewalks in our town or blacktopping that needs to be done,” said Jamie Mingo.
Dalton Miller agreed, saying as a taxpayer, it’s a “no-brainer.”
“If I have someone willing to come in and take over my building and remodel my building and allow me full access to my building all except this mall portion here, I think it’s a no-brainer for the council and the city…that’s my tax money that we won’t have to spend,” Miller said. “I’d much rather spend the bank’s money than my tax money…”
Carter asked if the city could retain the parking garage and lease the museum portion to FSNB. Sullivan said the proposal would change and amount of money invested and responsibilities of FSNB would as well.
“It’s less appealing to us,” Sullivan said, adding that they would be willing to discuss it.
James reiterated that his concern mostly exists in the public’s perception of paying off $300,000 on the building and turning around and leasing it for $1.
“If we have this thing fully publicized, have a hearing where we can hear from everyone, I would feel better,” James said.
Hester agreed saying the garage was just taken back into the city’s possession.
“Even though there are citizens here, and I understand their point and agree with much of what they’re saying, but as Dr. James said, we were just raked over the coals publicly because we jumped the gun, they said, and we’re selling downtown Stanford to the bank,” Hester said. “That’s the public perception. I will be the first person to say our Main Street has never looked better and I give props to the bank, all of you that have been involved in getting that done. It’s beautiful, I love to bring people here to see it.”
A little more time to discuss the proposal with the public before voting is what Hester said the council needed.
“We need to, like Dr. James just said, involve the citizens. If nobody comes, there might not be five people here. But we need to involve them and put it in the paper,” she said.
Deatherage said he doesn’t expect a large turn out for the town hall meeting.
“What’s going to happen is we’ll have this meeting and we’ll have two or three people show up,” Deatherage said.
Carter said the council said the same thing about the last town hall meeting but a large crowd attended.
SO YOU KNOW
The town hall meeting to discuss the city garage proposal is tonight, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the L&N Depot.