Before the county relocates many of its operations out of downtown Gainesville, a lot shuffling will need to take place.
Late Monday, Hall County finalized the purchase of the Liberty Mutual building at the intersection of Browns Bridge and McEver roads for $6.1 million. County officials expect the 120,000-plus-square-foot building will be large enough to house a variety of county departments currently located in different buildings around the downtown area.
The move is expected to happen as early as November 2011.
Not all are convinced it will be a clean break. Questions still remain about what will happen to the vacant spaces and what the effect will be for downtown businesses.
"Of course we are very disappointed that the county has decided to move out of downtown. We wish they would stay next to the court system and continue to contribute to the commerce of our downtown merchants during lunch time and other things the county employees do for our downtown merchants," Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett said.
Gene Li, owner of Sweet Magnolias Cafe & Bakery, said he worries the move will decrease his lunch crowd.
"We have a lot of customers from Hall County," Li said. "It's important for businesses along the square."
Helen Loggins, owner of Corner Cottage, said she hopes the move will not hurt business.
"I hate to see any customers go," Loggins said. "That's 200 potential customers that are leaving us."
But Assistant Hall County Administrator Phil Sutton said he doesn't think the impact on businesses will be significant because new employees will fill the offices left behind by the approximately 200 county employees who will relocate.
The Northeast Georgia Judicial Circuit will be expanding into the courthouse annex, for example.
"As the population grows, the courts grow. They need the space here," Sutton said.
The county will also be vacating the Joint Administration Building, which it shares with the city of Gainesville.
Officials plan to sell the county's office space back to the city, though no negotiations have taken place.
"Right now we've got plenty of space where all of our employees are," Padgett said.
Padgett said city officials will certainly consider any offer the county makes but can't commit to buying anything until they see details.
"The only thing we know about it is what we've been reading in the paper," Padgett said. "Hopefully they will approach us soon."
Sutton said the county will be selling about 15,000 square feet of office space it owns and occupies in the Joint Administration Building. Departments, including Tax Commissioner, Tax Assessor, Public Works and Engineering operate out of the building.
"We haven't discussed it in any kind of detail with them (Gainesville)," Sutton said.
Parks and Leisure Services works out of a building on Rainey Street next to Gainesville High School. Sutton said the county has discussed selling it to Gainesville City Schools. He said though the district is interested, it may not have the money to buy it at this time.
Sutton said it is fairly common for larger counties to expand outside of the downtown area. The cost of property in downtown areas tends to be much more expensive, he said.
"I think taxpayers would be interested in us not taking up the most expensive space in the community," Sutton said.