The Baldwin County Board of Commissioners is on board with the idea of creating more jobs and boosting local economic development.
The board made such evident during Tuesday night’s commission meeting when they voted to purchase the Lawrence Building at Renaissance Park, which is located on the campus of Central State Hospital. The price tag of the 156,400 square foot building is $510,000.
Baldwin County Commission Chairman John H. Westmoreland said Tuesday night that commissioners had voted to purchase the building. Commissioners discussed the property acquisition, as well as a pending litigation matter, in executive session.
They later reconvened the meeting in open session where they voted to spend $510,000 for economic development purposes, according to Baldwin County Clerk Cindy Cunningham.
Cunningham said commissioners approved an agenda amendment before commissioner Sammy Hall made a motion to purchase a tract of land at CSH after commissioners reconvened the meeting in public. The motion was seconded by commission chairman Henry Craig.
Commissioner Tommy French, as well as Westmoreland, supported Hall and Craig in what turned out to be a 4-0 vote.
Commissioner Emily C. Davis did not attend the meeting because of illness in her family.
“All I can tell you is that it is for economic development to help replace some of the jobs that we’re going to lose with Mohawk closing its doors next month,” Westmoreland said. “We’re hoping someone will come in and help create new jobs there.”
Westmoreland said a prospective company or industry would either buy the building from the county or have an option to lease it from the county since the building will soon be owned by Baldwin County.
The commission chairman said Renaissance Park is moving forward from an economic development standpoint and that county commissioners want to continue being partners with the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority and share in their vision for what can become a new dawning on the CSH campus.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to promote economic development,” Westmoreland said. “We’re doing what we can to bring some new jobs into this community.”
Westmoreland praised the work of the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority.
“I think [Executive Director] Mike [Couch] and his authority have done a fabulous job of turning the Central State Hospital property around,” Westmoreland said. “And over the next five to six months, we hope to see even more great things taking place there in terms of economic development.”
The money to purchase the building is coming out of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding, according to Baldwin County Manager Carlos Tobar.
The county manager said the building will not be purchased with bond funds.
“The resolution the board adopted prior to the SPLOST vote included county economic development projects,” Tobar told the newspaper in an email Wednesday. “A real estate purchase can be for economic development.”
When asked if there might be additional purchases made for real estate to promote economic development and create more jobs, Tobar indicated that was certainly possible.
“More SPLOST money could be used in the future for real estate acquisition to create or facilitate the creation of jobs,” Tobar said.
He pointed out that as far accounting goes, commissioners only bonded a portion of the anticipated total SPLOST revenues.
“So, there is excess SPLOST revenue that does not service debt,” Tobar said. “That money is being used to purchase the building.”
The Lawrence Building was once a thriving facility back when Central State Hospital was bustling as the largest mental hospital in the world. A portion of the building once served as the mailroom for many of the CSH properties back when the institution was fully operational.
The building is located near the Parham Kitchen on the CSH campus. The kitchen is slated to reopen as the Georgia International Food Center sometime in the coming year.