Three City Council members voted to sell 28.18 acres of Industrial Park West property to Cowart Mulch Products in April. At Tuesday’s meeting, the entire City Council will consider reversing that decision and transferring control of the property to the Gainesville-Hall County Economic Development Authority.
The issue comes to the table after the city waited nearly four months for Chris Cowart, Cowart Mulch Products’ owner, to sign the contract for the sale of the property, Assistant City Manager Kip Padgett said Friday.
City Manager Bryan Shuler said he sent Cowart a letter nearly two weeks ago, notifying Cowart that if he did not submit the signed contract to the city by July 25, then the City Council would be notified and could take "whatever action they deemed appropriate."
Although Shuler said he had not been involved with many industrial park land sales as city manager, he said in the few he had been involved with, contracts usually were signed quickly after the City Council approved the sale.
Cowart had indicated to Shuler that he would close on the property shortly after the City Council voted, and shortly after the vote, the city sent the contract to Cowart, Shuler said.
Since the vote, however, Shuler said his contact with Cowart has been limited. Once, when Shuler contacted Cowart about the contract, Cowart told him he was awaiting bank review, Shuler said. Later, the two men traded messages.
"I just called to find out when I could expect the contract," Shuler said. "I never got any response, and that’s when I sent the letter."
Cowart has not responded to Shuler’s letter.
"It is what it is," Shuler said. "It wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t returned."
Padgett said he discussed the issue with the City Council in a closed meeting Thursday morning.
"Our goal is to see (the property) developed so it can add to the tax base and it can add to the employment base," Shuler said. "When a purchaser is not going to proceed, then we need to move on and consider other options."
Cowart, who could not be reached for comment Friday, made an offer to buy the property for $22,500 an acre shortly before a planned City Council vote on selling the property to Mencom Corp. for nearly the same price.
Bruce Mistarz, owner of Mencom Corp., said his Realtor recently called him to let him know that the property was back on the market.
Mistarz said other business opportunities have become available since he lost the property bid and he is not sure if the property will still fit his industry’s needs. He said that he does not necessarily know that it will not fit his needs, either. Mistarz said he has been seeking out ways to expand his industry since the City Council chose not to sell him the property in April.
"We’re kind of keeping our options open right now," Mistarz said.
Mistarz brought part of his Illinois-based industry to Gainesville 12 years ago and has since outgrown three buildings. Currently, Mencom makes electrical connectors in a 15,000-square foot building in Centennial Industrial Park.
When the Gainesville operation became too big for its building last year, Mistarz decided to consolidate his entire industry and bring the larger Illinois branch to Gainesville.
He said he thought the 28-acre tract in Industrial Park West — a location in which he was told no one had been interested for more than a year — was the perfect spot for the consolidation that would bring about 40 to 50 jobs to Gainesville.
City Council voted in a 3-2 decision instead to award the property to Cowart Mulch Products. Mistarz said he was shocked by the decision and questioned whether the council’s decision was ethical, calling it the result of small-town politics.
On Friday, the issue was listed as an item on Tuesday’s consent agenda, a group of actions that City Council acts on with a single vote. There is usually no public discussion on consent agenda items at voting meetings.