BROOKSVILLE — SunTrust Bank executive Jim Kimbrough has offered to sell Hernando County the bank's downtown office as a way to help relieve the county's space concerns.
In related action, one preliminary recommendation by county staff on how to reshuffle functions would move several key offices from Brooksville to the county's facility at Forest Oaks Boulevard in Spring Hill.
Removing such key elements of government as the offices of the county administrator, county attorney and human resources from the county seat concerned County Commissioner John Druzbick.
That's when he asked Kimbrough whether he was willing to sell the bank building, which is at the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Street.
Kimbrough's offer to the commission also notes that, if the county decides to buy the building, the bank would construct a new office one block west of the current location and remain in the courthouse square where it has been located for more than 100 years.
Druzbick said his question didn't seem to surprise Kimbrough but the bank official's quick answer of yes caught him offguard. The bank has other property downtown that it is considering building on, he said.
Druzbick and other commissioners have been talking to Kimbrough about the idea for the last couple of weeks. Late Friday, Kimbrough offered the three-story bank building and affiliated properties all totalling 39,000 square foot of space to the county for $4 million.
If the commission approves, it will become one of several options for officials seeking ways to meet the needs of the county's judiciary within the existing Government Center while finding room for other county constitutional officers and county departments.
County Administrator David Hamilton has been trying to determine whether the center can house all the judiciary's needs now and into the future. County staff has also been conducting an inventory of space in other county facilities.
Preliminary recommendation have county functions spread from sites in Brooksville to Spring Hill. One version has Hamilton's office and others moving to the Forest Oaks Boulevard site but Hamilton said Friday that there are some problems with that option.
For Druzbick, there are several selling points for the SunTrust property. It would keep county offices close to one another and allow the county to sell some other buildings that would not be needed.
The purchase would also include about 80 parking spaces and another small adjacent building that could be used for planning staff and possible parks and recreation staff, Druzbick said.
He said he could also envision the tax collector, property appraiser and supervisor of elections offices on the ground floor of the bank with county administration, county attorney and human resources on the second floor.
Druzbick said the county could sell the Teen Center to the city of Brooksville and possibly find a private buyer to buy the utilities office on Cortez Boulevard once those workers are moved out, possibly to the Wiscon Road utilities office.
If the bank building plan moves forward, Druzbick said the county could hand over to the judges the $6 million in the judicial center fund that is tied directly to court facilities. They could use that money to remodel the government center.
The remaining $13 million could be used by the county to buy the bank property and for other purposes.
Commissioner Dave Russell has also talked to Kimbrough about the idea and he said it was worth exploring further. He said that the remodeling needed wouldn't be that extensive and he also thought putting tax collector and property appraiser on the accessible ground floor would work.
"The lobby lends itself to a customer-service-type atmosphere,'' he said. "It's something we should take a look at.''
Commission Chairman Jim Adkins also liked the option of having a customer friendly option available downtown with adjacent parking that wouldn't require citizens to scale the hill to the government center as they do now.
The extra space would also allow all the commissioners to move back into the government center rather than be in offices in their districts. "I don't like the scattering of government. I like having it under one roof,'' Adkins said.
But Adkins isn't sure he is completely sold on the idea yet. He wants to hear more discussion.
Hamilton has also toured the building with Kimbrough. He said he has been waiting to get the offer in writing so that he could place it on a board agenda for a public discussion of the issue so he knows whether the board wants the bank property to be included in the options. That discussion is slated for the next regular meeting on Feb. 22.
"Any and all options need to be put before the board,'' Hamilton said.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes could not be reached for comment.
The idea of buying the bank doesn't appeal to Commissioner Jeff Stabins. He said he got a call from Kimbrough but hasn't had a chance to talk to him about the idea.
"I cannot conceive of it,'' said Stabins, who has been pushing to use some of the $12 million in the judicial center fund for helping out during the tight budget year.
"If spending $15 million we don't have on the jail was a good idea, then buying a bank that's going broke is brilliant,'' Stabins said. "Hopefully something will be left in the vault when we get the key.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.