Hall County may sell the old jail facility in midtown Gainesville for a much needed financial boost.
The building, which currently houses Corrections Corporation of America, for years has been the subject of conflict between the county and the city of Gainesville.
“We as a county commission have an opportunity for a huge shot in the arm,” Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell said. “We might be able to eliminate furloughs, restore contributions to retirement plans and get our general fund balance back in order.”
Powell said at Monday’s commission work session that the facility has been appraised at $25 million.
He said the facility likely will be an attractive prospect because CCA has a lease agreement that runs for 20 years, providing a potential new owner with an immediate tenant. The lease agreement is for $2 million per year.
County staff also support the idea.
“It would put us into a healthy place financially,” County Administrator Charley Nix said. “I realize that the jail is a bit of a lightning rod situation. But we have to look out for our county employees and our citizens.”
Gainesville Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan said if the buyer wanted to develop the property the council might be open to the idea, but if it remains a jail it would be a thorn in the city’s plans for midtown.
“We wouldn’t be for it because we didn’t want a prison there in the first place,” Dunagan said. “I’m as against it now as I was when they crammed it down our throats two years ago.”
Dunagan said the city probably would not be able to afford the $25 million price the county would be looking for.
The old county jail is in Gainesville’s midtown district, which is slated for a redevelopment project.
In 1980, Gainesville sold the 5-acre property to Hall County to allow for a jail near the courthouse. The detention center was constructed in three phases between 1981 and 1993.
The city originally hoped to buy the facility back from Hall County and destroy it. City Council members have said the razor-wire-surrounded building will not fit with the future image of the midtown area.
In 2007, the city and the county drafted an agreement — which was never put into effect — that laid out the terms for the city’s purchase of the facility.
The original agreement called for the city to pay $4 million for the jail over two fiscal years and allow the county to lease the jail to a private firm like CCA for seven years. The deal would have generated approximately $18 million for the county and guaranteed Gainesville officials eventual control of the property.
“Our only interest in buying the property was to tear it down for midtown, not to use it as a prison,” Mayor Ruth Bruner said. “The $25 million appraisal is to keep using it as a private prison. I don’t know who would buy the place, other than CCA, and the county already gets $2 million per year from them in rent.”
The city and county are at odds over why the agreement was never made official. City officials maintain they were told not to sign the contract while county officials say they never received the signed contract and it expired.
In a December 2007 e-mail, County Attorney Bill Blalock told City Attorney Bubba Palmer and then-City Manager Bryan Shuler of an error in the contract.
“I point these changes out to you before your meeting tomorrow so that changes can be made before the Council considers the document,” Blalock wrote in the e-mail.
Documents show Blalock delivered the final draft of the intergovernmental agreement to Shuler on Jan. 30, 2008.