TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously agreed Thursday to entertain an offer to buy a private builder's former headquarters for its emergency operations center.
But the vote was simply to explore the possibility. And it came with a requirement that the county invite others with vacant property or other ideas for creating an emergency center to submit information for commissioners to consider.
"I feel we should review this opportunity and any others," said Ken Hagan, the commission chairman.
Commissioners tentatively voted in August to set aside $31.4 million to build an emergency operations center as its command post for natural disasters and other mayhem on up to 30 acres of land the county owns near Falkenburg Road. The new complex would be more than triple the size of the current center on East Hanna Avenue and in an area near other county government offices.
But prominent builder Bing Kearney has come forward with an offer to sell his construction company's less than 5-year-old former headquarters in Riverview for that purpose. Kearney Construction Co. has vacated the complex — three buildings with more than 100,000 square feet of offices and warehousing — as his business has slowed with the economy.
Lenders have served foreclosure notice on the property.
Hagan says the buildings may be had at a more than $10 million savings compared to what commissioners have set aside.
But the property is in a flood zone that could be imperiled in even a low-grade hurricane. While an engineer hired by Kearney has said the buildings are elevated to avoid flooding, that doesn't answer concerns about access to and from it if a hurricane hits.
"It's not without issues," Hagan conceded.
Other commissioners noted they have received overtures from other companies with either empty buildings or ideas for how to build an operations center with private assistance.
"I know there are several other groups that would step forward," said Commissioner Al Higginbotham.
Deputy County Administrator Lucia Garsys said the county is evaluating firms bidding to begin design of an operations center off of Falkenburg Road. That process will move forward despite the vote Thursday, with commissioners expected to select a company for that purpose in coming weeks while still entertaining other, outside options.
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or [email protected]