Brookhaven City Council has agreed to underwrite a $3.3 million bond to finance the city’s purchase of the Skyland Center building.
The city’s Development Authority plans to issue the bonds and buy the building in January. The council on Dec. 15 voted 3-0 to underwrite the bond issue. The authority meets Friday in a special called meeting to vote on issuing the bonds, which bond experts expect to sell at an interest rate of 2.875 percent or lower, city officials said.
Council members said they may use the building in the future to house City Hall, the city’s police department, the Brookhaven Innovation Academy or for some other public use.
“I think this is a sweetheart deal,” Councilman Joe Gebbia said. “There are risks with any deal… but I think this is a sweetheart deal.”
The building, located at 2600 Skyland Drive, now houses state offices. Brookhaven City Manager Marie Garrett said state officials plan to vacate the building next July and want to sell it. State officials have agreed to sell the building to the city for $2.7 million.
“They need to move on. They are asking for a final decision on whether council is ready [to buy the building],” Garrett told council members during their Dec. 15 meeting. “If not, they will put the building on the market. They have located a new building.”
The remainder of the bond funds will cover the costs of the bond issue and renovations to the building, including addition of a sprinkler system and removal of a small area of asbestos, city officials said. Gebbia, Councilwoman Linley Jones and Councilman John Park voted to underwrite the bonds.
City officials originally thought the state offices would remain in the Skyland building for up to two years. They thought the state would rent the building from the center, with rent payments covering the necessary bond payments for a time.
At the Dec. 15 meeting, officials said the city’s current rent on its City Hall and police department facilities totals $561,000 a year, so moving city offices into the Skyland building would save money on rent. But Garrett said the city has had other potential users inquire about renting the building.
Leaders of the Brookhaven Innovation Academy, a state charter school now planning to open next year, have shown interest in renting the Skyland building in the past. BIA officials recently have said they are considering other locations as well. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, City Councilman Bates Mattison, who is employed as the BIA’s executive director, left the council chambers before the discussion and vote on purchasing the building.
Garrett told the council members that a school other than the BIA has inquired about the Skyland building as have business incubators.
Park said that because of the reduction in the amount of time the state was expected to rent the Skyland building from the city, the purchase of the building “gives me a little heartburn.” He said he wanted the city to sell the building if no tenant could be found to cover its costs and the city did not use it for city offices.
“We could be left holding the bag for several hundred thousand dollars,” Park said. “It’s a risk.”
But other council members said they thought the city would benefit from the purchase.
“This is an unbelievably good deal,” Jones said. “I think we’d be doing a disservice [if we didn’t buy the building].”