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Gainesville votes to buy jail from Hall County for $7.2 million
Purchase still pending approval from Hall commission
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Gainesville City Council approved the purchase of the old jail in midtown Gainesville from Hall County for $7.2 million at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The purchase, which is still pending approval from the Hall County Board of Commissioners, would pave the way for the city of Gainesville to determine the destiny of the large building in the heart of midtown redevelopment plans.

Ultimately, city officials hope to see the building demolished and sold for future development. Although, in the short term it appears the jail will remain to house immigration detainees.

The city’s move to finally buy the building was spurred by events in March, when the county was moving toward selling the property at 622 Main St. to Corrections Corporation of America, also for $7.2 million. However, after some push back from city officials and business leaders, the county chose to let Gainesville make an offer.

Since March, city officials have been working with Hall County, CCA and the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to arrange the successful purchase of the jail.

“We’ve just had to work out the details,” Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said. “It takes a while to work through, especially when you’re dealing with a big corporation and the federal government.”

Some of the details that led to the deal have not been released yet, pending final approval from county commissioners. That’s expected to occur at their June 28 meeting.

What is clear is that CCA, the current occupant, will continue to lease the facility from the city, operating it as the North Georgia Detention Center. The city is still arranging an agreement with ICE to allow continued housing of immigration detainees, officials said.

Hall County Sheriff’s Office administration, also located in the building, will remain there until 2017.

Although Dunagan said the city was finalizing a new lease for CCA, the terms of the lease — including price and length of time — will not be released until the county approved the purchase.

While those details are not available for public consumption, Gainesville City Council member George Wangemann wasn’t satisfied with the plan. He was the lone council vote against the purchase.

“I fully support the concept of the jail going away, which is our vision for midtown,” he said. “However, I am opposed to (this deal) for the simple reason that it may put our taxpayers at risk.”

If CCA left the jail and the city couldn’t find another occupant or buyer, Wangemann said the city would still be on the hook to cover the purchase.

Others are praising the proposed deal.

“I am delighted that Hall County and the City of Gainesville have come together on an agreement that is mutually beneficial,” Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver said in a news release. “This is a great example of the kind of healthy, inter-governmental working relationship that is in the best interest of all our citizens.”

Dunagan said the purchase is an investment in the future of the midtown area.

“Although the property will remain in its current use, the purchase guarantees it will be ours to use in a way that is more compatible with growth in the midtown area,” Dunagan said in the release.

The jail was seen by city officials as an impediment to plans to redevelop the midtown district.

The city is constructing a greenway through the area and has a special tax district set up in the area to spur redevelopment projects.

City Manager Kip Padgett said in March that private investment has already started in the area, but those investments are occurring with the “faith” that the city is committed to getting rid of the Main Street jail.

The timetable for when it could be demolished is still unclear.

Gainesville will use bonds to pay for the jail and use lease payments from CCA to pay back the debt service over a 10- to 15-year period, according to the news release.

The county will put $5.2 million of the $7.2 million lump sum payment in reserves, and $2 million will be used in the fiscal year 2013 general fund budget to replace the lease payment CCA would have paid to the county for 2013, according to the news release.

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