Big Lots site is the choice for elections supervisor office


Published: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 7:05 p.m.

Alachua County’s search for a new location for the Supervisor of Elections Office may be over, as long as the Alachua County Commission agrees to move forward with negotiations for the favored location when the issue comes before it this month.

Out of the six proposals the county received in January, the Big Lots store at 2340 N Main St. in the Northside Shopping Center is the top choice.

“It’s really going to be much more efficient for our office,” Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter said, “and I think it’ll be much more helpful for the citizens of Alachua County as well.”

The Supervisor of Elections Office has been asking for extra space even before Carpenter came on board in 2005. Her department is spread between three locations at the moment.

Carpenter and the county were searching for a place with plenty of parking for poll workers and voters, nearby public transportation and a loading dock for moving equipment, to name a few of their criteria.

The changes in technology and election procedures in recent years, such as the use of bigger equipment, have prompted supervisors of elections across the state to move into bigger offices, she said.

If the negotiations process flows smoothly, Carpenter hopes she and her staff will be settling into their new home in December. It’s important they move in before next year because it’s a gubernatorial election year, and that will require the office’s full attention.

The new office would take up the Big Lots space as well as a portion of the Ashley Furniture building next door, both of which are managed by Bosshardt Realty Services, said Charlie Jackson, the county’s facilities manager. County staff plan to come before the Alachua County Commission this month and seek its direction on how best to move forward.

Larry Sapp, the county’s purchasing manager, said his staff have discussed leasing the Big Lots space with Bosshardt. If the board directs it to continue negotiations over the Big Lots and Ashley Furniture space, county staff will begin more concrete discussions regarding a potential agreement.

The Big Lots site has a little less than the 40,000 square feet that the Supervisor of Elections Office requested, which is why adding part of Ashley Furniture would be beneficial.

Bosshardt would probably handle the work on a buildout that would unite the two units into one space before Carpenter and her staff move in, Sapp said.

The county would probably lease the property, although the length of that lease hasn’t been determined.

Big Lots is planning to move into the former Albertson’s building on Northwest 13th Street in June, The Sun previously reported. Albertson’s was among the properties that were submitted to the county for consideration in the Supervisor of Elections search.

While Carpenter and county staff are comfortable with the selection of Big Lots as their first choice, one applicant sent a letter to Commissioner Susan Baird expressing his concerns about the process.

Jeffrey Meldon submitted his property, the former Scotty’s hardware store on Northwest 13th Street near Northwest 53rd Avenue, for consideration. He wrote he expected he and other property owners would be asked for “sealed” bids, including a rental rate proposal, if their sites met the county’s criteria.

Instead, he wrote, the county notified the top-choice applicant that its property had been chosen. He wrote, “It all but says ‘name your price,’ ” regarding rental rate negotiations.

Meldon also questioned the process because, to his knowledge, the first-choice property hadn’t responded to the county’s request for submissions in December. He advocated, in his letter, for a competitive bid process that will ensure the county gets the lowest-cost offer and that taxpayers get the best value for their money.

Sapp said Bosshardt did submit its proposal for the Big Lots and Ashley Furniture site within the shopping center by the county’s deadline in early January.

He also said the county’s invitation to negotiate, or ITN, process for the Supervisor of Elections search was carried out appropriately. The ITN process allows for negotiations.

The county will typically negotiate with its top-selected vendor first, and then move to the second choice if those initial negotiations are unsuccessful, Sapp said.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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