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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wal-Mart Opportunity Lost ???

By: Sid Riley

Well, the vacant Wal-Mart Building has been sold to an investment group, and may be lost as a possible cost saving solution to the continuing problem the county faces in properly housing most of the functions into one convenient location.
On May 22 in a formal closing meeting, Chipola River Properties, LLC, a subsidiary of the Grace Fund, purchased the Wal-Mart facility for an undisclosed amount. The asking price for the property was $2.6 million dollars, however court records disclose that the 98,000 sq. ft. building was purchased for $1,850,000. The Grace Fund is a consortium of approximately five hundred investors from across the nation.
This writer and numerous local citizens have been repeatedly encouraging the county commissioners to consider purchasing this structure as an alternative solution to the future facility problems the county is facing. Some feel that the commission has ignored this option in a delaying action until the upcoming elections are over, hoping to eventually proceed with construction of a new $18,000,000 building near the court house.
The new owners are now aggressively working on finding suitable tenants for the building. Wal-Mart attached deed restrictions to the property that prevent over 30% of the space being used for retail sales, in order to prevent a major competitor from filling the facility. Local businessman Byron Ward, who is part of the investment group and is also the general manager of the group’s interest in this area, states that one plan for filling the space involves seeking retail leasers for the front portion, and finding another call center/credit center type occupant for the balance of the building.
"The elaborate telephone and wiring infrastructure, along with the stand by generators and air conditioning systems that Sallie Mae implemented are worth approximately $4 million dollars," stated Ward. "This makes it an ideal site for other businesses with similar facility requirements. We are working with fourteen marketing companies and organizations that specialize in call centers to help us find potential occupants, and this effort has already yielded several good prospects. Our hope is to again fill the facility with good businesses that will create several hundred good paying jobs for our local citizens."
Of course the County could still buy the building, but the cost would be considerably more than what they could have bought it for several months ago. If they wait until new occupants are found…….it will be an "opportunity lost".

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