Hernando County Commissioners reject private offer to build government center

Secret offer revealed that would have included a 25-year-lease.
Hernando County Courthouse in Brooksville. JUSTIN TROMBLY | Times
Hernando County Courthouse in Brooksville. JUSTIN TROMBLY | Times
Published March 12

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday rejected a proposal by a private entity to build the county a new government center.

Commissioners followed the recommendation of a committee comprised of county workers and a private construction engineer. The committee unanimously rejected the proposal based on its impact on the county's budget and operations, according to a report.

Previous coverage: Hernando commissioners agree to review unsolicited bid to build new government center

County purchasing and contracts manager James Wunderle told commissioners that the offer likely would have cost the county $30 million more than building the center themselves.

Under the proposal, the county would lease the 100,000-square-foot building for 25 years and pay between $22.50 and $24 per square foot. The total cost over the 25 years would have been approximately $60 million, and the county would have owned the building at the end of the lease.

The county also would have had to lease 10 acres of land at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport for the building at about $35,000 annually, county officials said.

The county would have maintained the building, and the private entity could have sold the lease after one year.

Hernando County is grappling with a multi-million dollar budget deficit, which made county officials concerned about the cost of this proposal. Commissioner John Mitten, who was acting chairman on Tuesday, said it was not an acceptable arrangement for the county.

After the commission rejected the proposal, county staff members were allowed to release the identity of the company making the pitch -- U.S. HealthRealty of Franklin, Tennessee, which would have handled the development, financing, design and construction oversight.

The architectural design, engineering and construction administration would have been done by HOK of Dallas. And the construction manager would have been Skanska USA Building of Tampa, known locally for its work on the St. Petersburg Pier project and for its work with HOK on the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

The construction and design group had been talking with former Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon for months, something that wasn’t mentioned during Tuesday’s public discussion. The principals contacted Sossamon more than a year ago when they heard of the county's office space needs, he said.

Sossamon told the Tampa Bay Times that the commission should have considered the proposal, which offered financing that would have given the county breathing room while it attempts to overcome its $11 million general fund budget shortfall.

But Sossamon, who acknowledges that his ouster in January was because he landed on the wrong side of the political tides, said the plan didn't help local businesses who might gain from doing the construction project.

"It's not a good old boy, shadow-government type thing,'' he said. "That's why it's going to be shot down.''

Rejecting the proposal left commissioners still facing the need for more room. They have been repeatedly put on notice by the judiciary to provide judges more courtrooms and other space.

Last year, S. Sue Robbins, chief judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit, wrote a detailed letter to the County Commission certifying "the immediate need for a court facility construction project.'' She pointed out that it is county government’s responsibility to fund that expansion.

Previous coverage: Judge's letter tells county it must add judicial space now

"If the judges decided to do something, then what are they going to do? Raise taxes?'' Sossamon asked.

Last year, commissioners decided to move county administrative offices to their property at the PineBrook medical center, outside the county seat of Brooksville. But further study indicated that renovating the PineBrook center and adding another building behind it would cost nearly as much as building an entirely new government center, Sossamon said.

He said the 10-acre airport property, across from the Hernando County Detention Center on Spring Hill Drive, would give the county a place to build a state-of-the-art government center for about $30 million. The judiciary then could take over the current government center in downtown Brooksville.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.