IN A controversial but anticipated move, Savannah City Council approved the sale of the the City-owned Broughton Municipal Building at 132 E. Broughton St.
There was only one bidder for this premium historic corner property on Savannah’s premier commercial thoroughfare.
It is set to be renovated into a boutique hotel anchoring mixed-use development — provoking grumbling from many residents who already feel that City government has sold out the Historic District to hotel developers.
“The historic integrity of the building will be preserved while restoring the exterior to its mid-century roots,” a City spokesperson says.
Columbia Ventures, LLC bought the City surplus property for $4.5 million, despite it being valued at over $7 million by Chatham County.
However, City staff says the sale will generate another roughly $2 million in tax revenue, which was not being collected on the government-owned property.
Local real estate broker Dicky Mopper, who specializes in historic downtown properties, addressed Council, saying their decision to sell the 37,000-plus square-foot property at a low $120 per square foot was “leaving money on the table.”
“Within a two-block radius on Congress Street, another building that’s 8100 square feet in the same if not worse condition than the Municipal Building sold for $3 million,” Mopper said. “I sit here and I shake my head.”
Mopper said the fact that only one buyer came forward for the prime property “says to me that we as a City didn’t do a good job.”
Mopper says the City’s method for marketing surplus property doesn’t reach enough potential buyers.
“The City over the last ten years has lost millions and millions of dollars by not understanding when to turn down a bad offer,” Mopper said.
Mopper concluded by asking the City to let the building back out for bid, saying he had a bidder who would offer over $5 million.
City Manager Rob Hernandez defended the City’s methods and said state law restricted any moves to resubmit the property or negate the contract.
He said the building’s slated use for a boutique hotel was in line with Council priorities.
“If the proposed use is something that we think the City Council should consider, then we’ll make that recommendation to you,” he said to Council. “We feel that even though it is below appraised value, it is still a fair price based on the redevelopment that will take place on that property.”
Mopper said the sale is “a terrible mistake.”
“I hear y’all complain every day about we need more money here, let’s do this, let’s do that. And here’s a property where, I’m sorry, your process Mr. City Manager, doesn’t get the property out to the right folks,” he said.
Alderman Tony Thomas said he agreed with Mopper.
Thomas pointed out that because City offices at the Broughton Municipal Building all have to be moved to various locations, often where the City will now have to pay rent, the sale was at best a wash.
“The tragedy with this is we’re going to basically give this building away... because we traded it out for rent at the Savannah Morning News building.”
Thomas sounded a familiar note about what he calls the City’s often “unfair” award practices.
“It always makes me wonder how some people get [contracts] and some don’t.”
Most employees who worked at the Broughton Municipal Building have already been relocated to facilities at 1375 Chatham Parkway and 1700 Drayton St.
Two departments remain in the Broughton building: the Revenue Department and City auditors. The Revenue Department will soon relocate to the Civic Center, and City auditors will relocate to Chatham Parkway.