Commission approves lease for local robotics firm


Published: Monday, June 18, 2012 at 10:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 18, 2012 at 10:47 p.m.

The Gainesville City Commission approved a lease agreement with Prioria Robotics on Monday and pushed ahead with the plan to transform a vacated Gainesville Regional Utilities warehouse south of downtown into the future headquarters of the locally grown technology firm.

Commissioners also voted to take about $2.63 million out of the city's reserves to cover construction and design costs as well as general government's purchase of the building from GRU.

Commissioners approved the lease unanimously. The use of reserve funds passed 5-1, with Commissioner Todd Chase in dissent and Commissioner Thomas Hawkins absent.

Chase said the city should instead borrow money to finance the project — spreading out the costs over time instead of taking millions out of reserves.

Finance Director Mark Benton said financing the project would have cost about $110,000 more over seven years.

In January, the City Commission took $3.5 million out of reserves to go toward the construction of a new police headquarters.

That move, coupled with Monday's decision, took the city's general fund reserve from about $16.4 million to about $10.3 million. That still exceeds the required amount dictated by the city policy that reserves equal at least 8.33 percent of the total general fund.

The warehouse project is the first piece in the planned redevelopment of the Power District south of downtown, which includes roughly 16 acres that was formerly the GRU operations center.

Prioria, which specializes in the development of small, unmanned aircraft, has about 40 employees. The company has approval to receive $400,000 in local and state tax incentives through the Qualified Target Industry program if 40 additional high-wage jobs are created.

Under the seven-year agreement, Prioria will pay the city $23,375 a month during the first year — with that amount increasing by 3 percent annually — to lease the 22,000-square-foot former warehouse off Depot Avenue. The company also will pay property taxes on the renovated building, with those revenues flowing into the city's downtown community redevelopment area instead of the county or city's general funds.

The city is now in a race to complete the building's renovation and the redevelopment of the site. If the building is not ready for move in by Feb. 7, 2013, the city will pay Prioria a daily penalty of almost $399.

On Monday, city commissioners approved a nearly $1 million agreement with Charles Perry Partners Inc. to serve as construction manager for the first phase of the project. Oelrich Construction is expected to be the construction manager for the second phase.

Both of those companies are on the city's approved list of firms to build projects $2 million or less without a separate bid process.

Because the warehouse was an asset of GRU, bond covenants required that the utility receive “fair value” for it, said CRA Interim Director Kelly Fisher.

The city is essentially buying the building from itself, with general government paying the utility $375,000.

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