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Home center says no to parks department

No deal.

That was the answer Monday from the owners of the Scotty's home center on Ponce De Leon Boulevard to Hernando County's offer to buy the 30,000-square-foot building and the 4.5 acres it sits on.

Facing what he said is the increasingly tough job of running an overburdened Parks and Recreation Department from three locations, director Pat Fagan made the $800,000 offer last week after getting approval from the County Commission. Fagan planned upgrades to the Scotty's building, envisioning it as the new home of a centralized department.

"Let me just make it real simple," said Scotty's president and chief executive officer Tom Morris Monday. "It's not possible that we would leave Brooksville and vacate that property."

Fagan's proposal was not viable, Morris said, because the county, perhaps due to what the CEO called a "simple misunderstanding," did not fully appreciate his company's insistence on selling only to a buyer who would lease the property back to Scotty's long term.

The company, said Morris, wants to lease back the property for up to 20 years, to be renewed every five. The county, according to Fagan, was under the impression the company wanted to lease the property for a year at most.

According to Morris, these days the majority of retail businesses lease property. Scotty's is unusual in that, having been started in 1924, it owns the land under most of its stores. The CEO said the company is attempting to modernize its business model through sale and lease-back deals. Of the 59 Scotty's properties in Florida and the Savannah, Ga. area, Morris said the company has sold between eight and 10 and now leases the properties they occupy.

Overall business strategy aside, Morris said, there was another reason Scotty's would not sell to the county and leave town: The Brooksville store is one of its most profitable.

"I wish them the very best of luck," said Fagan after being told of the company's decision. "What I need to do at this point is to proceed on with other options."

The director said he has not decided where to make his next offer, and that his short list is being continually revised. The Grubbs Construction Co. building near the intersection of Main Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Brooksville, however, could get another look, Fagan said. The property was among four Fagan was considering before selecting Scotty's, which was included in the group.

Grubbs Construction is asking $875,000 for the 5.9-acre site and its 19,000-square-foot building. Fagan said the company _ which is millions of dollars in debt and owes more than $400,000 in taxes to the county _ has been trying to sell much of its real estate after declaring bankruptcy in April.

"They have talked to me," Fagan said of Grubbs. "I would still like to get a better price."

Fagan has $1.5-million in bonds with which to purchase a new Parks and Recreation headquarters. The County Commission dedicated the money for that purpose in April.

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

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