City now may try to buy all of prison property


Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 8:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 8:26 p.m.

Now that a proposed land swap looks unrealistic, the city may offer to pay the state for the entire Gainesville Correctional Institution site in order to obtain the property for the long-discussed homeless shelter and assistance center.

“That would be our proposal,” City Manager Russ Blackburn said Tuesday.

In June, Gainesville and the state reached agreement on a two-phase deal for the city to acquire the shuttered prison on Northeast 39th Avenue for the shelter and social services center.

But the details of that deal were undone last Thursday. That night, amid significant opposition from residents of the Historic Duck Pond neighborhood, the city Plan Board voted down plans for the state to use a former law office north of City Hall as probation offices.

The state’s acquisition of that building on Northeast First Street was part of the land swap that was the proposed second phase of the deal for the former prison site.

The first step of that deal, which is close to being finalized, has the city paying $753,000, including $53,000 in closing costs, for 28 acres of the shuttered prison property.

Under the land swap, in the second step, the city would have received the former medical building, gatehouse, administration building and parking lot at the closed prison.

In an email response Tuesday to a request from Commissioner Todd Chase for a status update, Blackburn said the land swap no longer seemed “feasible.”

Blackburn said he and Assistant City Manager Fred Murry had met with state Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, seeking assistance in talks with the Department of Corrections on a purchase instead of a land swap. Blackburn said they also will meet with state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park.

“A pure purchase is less complicated and within our control,” Blackburn said in his email.

In an interview, he estimated the price would be in the range of $200,000 to $300,000.

Perry, whose roofing company did volunteer repair work at the prison to prevent mold and rot in anticipation of the city’s acquisition, said he would continue to “facilitate to get the project done.”

“What we’re going to do now is hopefully get the state to let the city buy the property outright,” he said. “The land swap would have worked out well for the city, but it is what it is.”

Perry said he would also like the city to continue to assist the Department of Corrections in efforts to find a new location for its probation offices.

The state has had probation offices downtown for about 20 years, according to a report by city staff.

The offices were above Harry’s Seafood from October 1993 to December 2012 and are now at 215 SE Second Ave, about four blocks south of the location the plan board voted down last Thursday.

While the state initially declared the entirety of the closed Gainesville Correctional Institution as surplus, the DOC later sought to maintain ownership of multiple buildings for use as probation offices.

Seeking to obtain the entire site, the city started talks on the land swap. Those plans stalled last Thursday as the Plan Board’s voted 5-1 to deny the permit to relocate the probation office west of the Duck Pond neighborhood.

Dozens of Duck Pond residents showed out in opposition. Common concerns were diminished property values, increased crime and the possibility of jeopardizing the safety of children living in the area.

In the wake of the vote that evening, Gainesville homeless advocate Arupa Freeman said she plans to begin a weekly prayer vigil at the Duck Pond this Sunday at 7 p.m.

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