IMPAC site purchase
to come to a vote
The Charlotte County Commission will vote today on a controversial real estate deal that could — depending on whom you ask — be a boon for economic growth in the county, a cutting-edge way to offer the public high-tech library services or another drain on taxpayers.
Commissioners will discuss the acquisition of the former IMPAC university complex in Punta Gorda and hear public comment at the commission’s regular agenda meeting at the county administration building in Murdock beginning at 9 a.m.
For months, commissioners have weighed the pros and cons of purchasing the four-acre property on West Marion Avenue that has about 55,000 square feet of office, classroom, meeting and recreation space spread over three two-story buildings.
It started as a plan by Economic Charlotte Enterprise Council and county economic development staff to buy the property using $2.5 million of taxpayer money to set up a business and technology incubator designed to support innovative young companies looking for “soft landing” spaces to develop leading-edge products and services in the county.
It has since morphed into a $3 million proposal to convert the campus into an incubator with a small digital library operated by county staff that would serve residents and businesses alike. At a workshop last week, Commission Chairman Chris Constance even proposed converting the campus into a regional public library equipped with cutting-edge equipment that would replace the library on Henry Street, should the incubator project fail.
None of the proposals has received much applause from taxpayers — or commissioners, for that matter — who say the IMPAC building is ill-suited for the ventures. It’s a building, opponents argue, that is too big, too fancy and too expensive for the county to purchase and renovate at a time when the county is finally beginning to find economic footing after years of deep budget cuts that resulted in hundreds of layoffs, capital projects being cut or postponed and services being curtailed.
Few people argue the concept of an incubator — a program that provides entrepreneurs, usually through public-private partnerships, with the resources needed to launch and grow their companies typically over a three-year period — is a bad one or that a need for a library in South County exists.
In fact, in the county’s 2007-2009 list of approved capital improvement projects, some $24 million was earmarked for construction of a new south county regional library near Edison College, said county administrator Ray Sandrock. But after the housing crash and property values plummeted, the county had to delay construction on a new library until eventually it was struck completely from the CIP plan, Sandrock said.
“We’ve really been fighting hard to keep our services and facilities open during really tough times so we would have to evaluate where the funding would come from to convert the (IMPAC) building and to run it,” Sandrock said. “What we’re not answering is: Is that the best location and at what cost? And what are the obstacles to it?”
As it turns out, the facility may not meet building code requirements for stress loads, which is a concern, said county Facilities Maintenance Director David Milligan at a pre-agenda meeting Monday. Milligan noted that a thorough structural review of the building would need to be done before a determination could be made as to whether or not the building could be converted to a regional library.
And that might sway Constance, who publicly stated last week he would support buying the IMPAC property/site/building if it could be used as a library. “I see this as a very viable Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work. As long as this discussion gets out next week, there’s going to be a solid third vote for this,” he said.
At the workshop, Commissioner Robert Skidmore made a motion to purchase the building and it was seconded for discussion by Commissioner Tricia Duffy. Commissioners Stephen R. Deutsch and Bob Starr have stated they will not vote for the proposal.