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County negotiates for Scotty's site

In recent years, Hernando County's Parks and Recreation director Pat Fagan was forced to sit by and watch while other departments got new headquarters.

In 2001, it was Animal Services' $1.5-million building on Oliver Street in Brooksville; this year, it was the Department of Public Works' $5.6-million compound on E Jefferson Street.

Soon it may be his department's turn to get a pricey upgrade. Last week, the county offered the corporate owners of the Scotty's home center, at 600 Ponce De Leon Blvd., $800,000 for their 33,000-square-foot building and the 4.5 acres on which it sits. Fagan expects a reply from the owners as early as today.

Once a deal is reached and renovations and additions are completed on the existing structure, Fagan said, a revamped Scotty's in county hands will mean an end to years of coordinating parks and recreation department employees in three locations.

"I can't do it anymore," Fagan said. "With the growth in the county, it's mandatory."

Several aspects of the deal may require further negotiation, however. The county's offer is $150,000 below what Scotty's wanted for the site. Also, the company is seeking an option to lease the property back from the county for one year. Although a shorter lease-back period could be worked out, Fagan said one year is out of the question.

Area real estate broker and developer Gary Schraut, who is handling the sale for Scotty's, said the company's Brooksville store is doing well, making it difficult for the county to dictate all the terms of the deal. Yet, he added, Scotty's officials wouldn't have directed him to write up a purchase agreement with the county if they were not serious about selling.

"Is it a done deal? No way," Schraut said. "Do I think there's a possibility? You bet."

Should the purchase happen, Fagan said, an additional $200,000 to $300,000 will be needed for improvements such as parking lot resurfacing, adding office space and enclosing outdoor areas to store equipment. Money for the purchase and the upgrades would come from $1.5-million in bonds the county dedicated in April for a new Parks and Recreation headquarters.

At present, the department's facilities maintenance division works out of the county government center in Brooksville; recreation, which handles all athletic league scheduling, is across the street, and parks maintenance is based at the county fairgrounds on U.S. 41. About 80 full-time Parks and Recreation staffers and 30 part-time employees work at the three sites.

"You can't operate with the number of people that I operate with, having people housed in different locations," Fagan said. "There are times when things continuously fall through the cracks because of communications problems."

The Scotty's property was chosen over three others, all of comparable price. One location on Spring Hill Drive was much larger, 17 acres, but it was at the upper end of the price spectrum and had costly drainage problems, Fagan said.

When county commissioners voted last week to extend an offer to Scotty's, all were enthusiastic except for Commissioner Mary Aiken, who cast the lone vote against the plan. Aiken has long advocated using the largely abandoned former Department of Public Works site on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Brooksville for some county purpose and wanted to see it considered for a Parks and Recreation headquarters.

While Fagan said he admired Aiken's frugal streak, officials had promised area residents the site would be considered for a park once vacated. Also, the area is contaminated with waste petroleum products and will require at least $400,000 in cleanup before being converted to a new use, Fagan said.

Should Scotty's respond favorably to the offer, Fagan will still have to deal with a dispersed staff for some time. He estimated it would take nine months of design work and renovation to the Scotty's after acquisition before his department could move in.

_ Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansantsptimes.com.

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