Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

TOP STORY >>City set to clear land for library

Leader staff writer

An abandoned gas station, detail shop and old store front on four acres of land on Main Street in Jacksonville should soon be torn down to make way a for a new $2.5 million library. The city purchased three acres of the land in three separate buys this summer, then used eminent domain to condemn and take the remaining acre of land. “We have title to the land and are proceeding with the library plans,” Mayor Tommy Swaim said.

Those plans next include demolition of the abandoned buildings and asbestos removal. The city council will vote on bids for the work at its meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday. The mayor said the city has received two bids and is checking company references before making a suggestion as to which company to use.

If the council approves one of the two bids to demolition and clear the land, work should start before Thanksgiving.
The mayor also said that there is a public meeting set for at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15 at the Nixon Library, also on Main Street, to discuss design plans for the new library.

Plans that the architect presented last year were roundly rejected. It was then decided to wait until the land was obtained before developing another design. “I’d like for this to be a centerpiece for the downtown area,” Swaim has said, with amenities including a park-like setting.

The new library building will be approximately 13,500 square feet, about 4,000 square feet larger than the current city library built in 1969. Swaim has said that the most of the cost of the land has been paid for by private donations. In July 2004, Jacksonville residents approved a one-mil property tax increase to pay off $2.5 million in bonds to build the new library building. Since that time the current library has suffered numerous roof leaks and was even closed for about a month as leaks damaged books, carpeting and other portions of the library.

During the summer, the city purchased the Texaco station and related property from he Scheaffer family for $300,000, or about $10 a square foot. Another portion of the land was purchased from the Abdin family, which was paid $80,300 for the land housing the closed tobacco store and Fishnet thrift shop, which worked out to $10.70 a square foot.

The city also worked out an agreement with Butch Dougherty to buy the three lots in the block that he owns for $231,550, or $7.98 a square foot. That left about 1.1 acres of land owned by Robert Dougherty. Because a price could not be agreed amount, the city used its powers of eminent domain in August, condemning and taking the property. Dougherty is suing the city to get more money for his land.

“We have placed money in escrow to cover the appraised value of the property,” the mayor explained, “and the former owner will have his day in court to argue what is a fair price.” “If eminent domain will allow the library project to move along more quickly, then this is what the city should do,” said Robert Dougherty in a letter to the city council in August, when it took up the condemnation issue.

But he was adamant about taking his case to court to get a fair price. According to Dougherty, the city is offering him about half of what it gave the other land owners. City Attorney Bob Bamburg explained that under eminent domain the landowner would still have to be fairly compensated for the land, but eminent domain allows the city to proceed with its public project—in this case the library—while the sides work out fair compensation.