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Gainesville offers $7.2M for old Hall County jail
Bid matches CCAs offer to buy midtown property from county
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A source with the Hall County government has confirmed that Gainesville has matched Corrections Corp. of America's offer on the old county jail, and is willing to pay $7.2 million to control the future of the Main Street property.

Gainesville officials confirmed Tuesday they have submitted a written offer but would not discuss details, citing ongoing negotiations.

CCA, which is currently leasing the midtown Gainesville building, was close to a deal with the county to buy it.

A lease-purchase agreement approved by the Hall County Board of Commissioners in February would have given CCA ownership over a period of seven years.

The deal was put on hold last week by the Gainesville-Hall Development Authority to give the city enough time to make its own offer.

The county-owned jail sits in the heart of Gainesville's midtown district, an area slated for redevelopment, and city officials have made known their desire to get rid of it. The county leased the property in 2008 to CCA, which has used it to house detainees for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement in what is now called the North Georgia Detention Center.

The city delivered a written offer to buy the property Tuesday, but both county and city officials say there's more work to be done.

During its scheduled meeting Tuesday, Gainesville City Council met behind closed doors for about 20 minutes to discuss real estate matters. The council discussed the same topic for more than an hour Monday in a specially called executive session.

After Tuesday's closed meeting, Mayor Danny Dunagan said the city was still in negotiations.

"It's still going back and forth between the two attorneys," said City Manager Kip Padgett.
To which Dunagan quipped, "That means it could go on forever."

Commissioner Scott Gibbs said the county's attorneys must review the offer to determine the county's liability.

Commissioner Ashley Bell, whose district includes the city, said that issue will need to be addressed before the county can move forward.

CCA operates at the detention center under a contract Hall County has with ICE to house immigration detainees.

If the county sells the jail, it may also have to transfer the agreement with ICE.

CCA senior director Tommy Alsup said last week the change could mean that ICE would suspend its operations at the detention center until the new agreement is reached, meaning the company could lose at least two months of revenue and about 145 jobs would be in jeopardy.

If that happens, Gibbs said CCA could sue the county for lost income. The county wants the city to assume any liability that comes from the county breaking its agreement with CCA.

CCA representatives did not return requests for comment late Tuesday, but Bell said the company isn't happy.

"CCA has been very adamant about what they want and this is not what they want, so we assume there would be repercussions ..." Bell said. "We would rather just know that (the city is) assuming the liability since they want the jail so bad."

If the city agrees to assume liability, the commission could vote on the deal as early as Thursday, Bell said.

"I would like to see them get it, but it's got to be a competitive offer for the good of all the taxpayers," Gibbs said.

City officials said Monday that they have not been in contact with CCA.

CCA sought to buy the jail this year after the number of detainees housed there declined last year.

The agreement CCA and the county signed in 2008 was supposed to net the county $2 million a year for 20 years, but allowed CCA to break the lease if its economic conditions changed. Both CCA and the county have been working on a new agreement since fall.

Staff writer Aaron Hale contributed to this report.


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