Because city commissioners were split over whether to sell or lease the retail space attached to the Palm Avenue parking garage, they sought an opinion from the Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board.
The CRAAB board had a unanimous recommendation: Sell, sell, sell.
“I would want to relieve the city staff of being leasing agent and (management), so I would wholeheartedly support a sale,” said John Harshman, a CRAAB member and commercial real-estate broker.
If the city leased the space for the current downtown market rate of $16 to $18 per square foot, it would take up to 23 years for the city to break even.
Commissioners could not come to a consensus last month, when city staff informed them that negotiations to lease the 12,000 square feet of retail space on the garage’s ground floor have nor produced any results.
City management recommended to sell that space, so it wouldn’t have to deal with the headache of leasing downtown retail space that is difficult for professional Realtors to lease right now.
“We’re not in the business of managing retail property,” said City Manager Bob Bartolotta.
But only one commissioner, Terry Turner, fully agreed with the recommendation.
Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Commissioner Suzanne Atwell both wanted the city to retain control over what kind of businesses move into the space, and leasing the garage would be the best way to keep that control.
Kirschner said he would rather the city hire a real-estate broker, who would go after tenants that the city desires.
The mayor was also looking ahead to when the vacant property directly to the north of the parking garage is developed. The city hopes a large hotel will be built there.
“When the hotel is developed, the (garage) retail space could be part of the package,” he said.
Even when a group of established downtown retailers told commissioners that they had a bank loan and were willing to buy all 12,000 square feet at the asking price of about $2 million, commissioners balked.
Instead, they wanted to put off the decision until the CRAAB board, which met Oct. 28.
The garage is scheduled to open before December, so without any current prospects to lease the retail space, the ground floor could remain vacant for a while.
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