Floyd County Commissioners to consider White House building for space
April 3 — NEW ALBANY — Floyd County Commissioners are considering the White House Building in downtown New Albany as a possibility for county office space.
Commissioners will consider a letter of intent to purchase the building at 222 Pearl St. on Tuesday. The move would not be a formal commitment to buy the building, but would take the property off the market as commissioners consider the option.
The building is home to Mariposa Consignments on the first floor, but is mostly empty. The building was historically home to the White House Store.
In March, Floyd County Commissioners also voted 2-1 to approve a letter of intent to consider purchasing the First Financial Bank building at 100 E. Spring St. in downtown New Albany. Commissioners are also evaluating the bank building for potential office space.
Floyd County officials are considering whether to renovate the city building on Hauss Square in New Albany into a judicial center. However, the project ran into obstacles after the Floyd County Council could not reach a consensus on whether to commit to rehabilitating the building.
In March, commissioners voted 2-1 to abandon previously developed plans for the judicial center project. A proposal for a Floyd County administrative building on Grant Line Road also stalled, and county officials are now exploring alternative options for temporary or long-term offices for administrative functions.
Floyd County Commissioner Al Knable is introducing the action item at Tuesday’s meeting to review the letter of intent for the White House building.
“A letter of intent doesn’t mean you’ve decided to buy something, it just means you’re considering it to the point where you want to start a formal evaluation process,” Knable said. “So by signing it, it’s basically going to freeze it and keep it off the market for a predetermined number of days that allows us to get our architects in there and our bankers and elected officials who can use the space.”
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“If it’s a good fit and we can find a price that works for both parties, we can move forward with a formal purchase offer,” he said.
Knable said the White House building has some “wonderful attributes,” including about 26,000 square feet of space that is “almost ready to go.” He has been working with Realtor Mike Kopp as the county looks into using the space.
“It is a historical place, [and] it’s close to the judicial center,” he said. “Myself and many county council members and commissioners remain responsible for trying to find a way to make this work, so we’re trying to leave no stone unturned in by finding an economically viable way to provide office space for services that taxpayers demand, as well as a safe place for workers to work.”
The purchase price for the White House building will be determined within 90 days of the commissioners signing a letter of intent. The letter of intent includes a $5,000 earnest money deposit that would be applied at the closing of a purchase or returned if the purchase does not proceed.
Knable points out that negotiations are ongoing for the first Financial Bank building and the county has yet to spend any money.
“At the moment we are looking at both options,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’ll go with one, it doesn’t mean we won’t go with both. It doesn’t mean we won’t go with one and not the other.”
Tim Kamer, president of the Floyd County Commissioners, said the letter of intent commissioners will consider Tuesday is “almost identical” to the one approved for the First Financial Bank building. Commissioners will compare the two buildings, he said.
“We’re just trying to consider what options [the White House building] presents with the construction projects insofar as there are some of the administration functions and perhaps some of the judicial functions located within there.”
He thinks the county will follow the options of First Financial Bank and the White House for government offices, but not both.
“It won’t be both,” Kamer said. “That is why we are comparing them. There will be redundancy if we had two. There is no need to spend on both, so we will choose one of the two.”
Floyd County Commissioner John Schellenberger said he plans to vote against entering a letter of intent for the White House building. He also voted against abandoning earlier plans for the judicial center project and entering a letter of intent for the First Financial Bank building.
He is concerned that there is no “comprehensive plan” to move forward with government offices.
“What needs to happen first is you need to identify what you’re going to do with the city-county building…are we going to renovate the building, expand the courthouses and all that, or just rehabilitate the buildings.” , Schellenberger said. “That needs to be identified first, and I haven’t seen a comprehensive plan at all.”
“So we’re trying to find office space, but we don’t know what we’re going to do with the building downtown,” he said. “The county council – they haven’t made any financial commitments on how they’re going to fund the rehabilitation or refurbishment, and until you do that, why go out and buy other buildings.”
He is also concerned about the lack of parking for county employees if Floyd County were to buy the White House building.
Knable said that while a decision has not been made on the city-county building, he thinks the first part of the process should be securing administrative space.
“We know work still needs to be done, and we continue to evaluate the best way to do it,” Knable said. “These problems are not going to fix themselves. We are aware of that. Our heads are not in the sand on it. An approach was put forward and it seemed that from an economic and financial point of view it was not viable. acceptable [or] soluble, so we’re trying to find another way to do it.”
Kamer said county officials will need to consider the square footage, parking access and functionality of both buildings for potential government offices. He said it’s important to figure out where to move employees once the county settles on plans for the city-county building.
“Right now we’re still assessing our needs and trying to get a plan of attack together to get key stakeholders involved so we can start to understand what a new solution looks like,” he said. “It gives us options, so when we’re ready to pull the trigger, we’re not trying to find a place for people.”