City puts former Home Health office, Blewster home up for sale, Council places special parameters on bid process; $637K sewer treatment project accepted : KZHE News Blog
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City puts former Home Health office, Blewster home up for sale, Council places special parameters on bid process; $637K sewer treatment project accepted

by J.D. Bailey on 09/28/21

The City of Magnolia has put a historic N. Washington home up for sale.

Announced Monday as part of a motion passed by the Magnolia City Council, the former Magnolia Regional Medical Center Home Health office at 833 N. Washington Street will be sold within the next month.

The sale, however, is no ordinary bid auction by the city. On Monday, the Council voted unanimously to place a host of parameters and special qualifications on any potential buyer of the former Agnes K. Brewster residential property.

The issue was brought before the Council this week, after Magnolia business owner Laura Crowell, who is also the spouse of sitting Magnolia City Councilman Steve Crowell, recently offered to purchase the property from the city. The Edward Jones Investments financial advisor currently holds an office at an E. Main Street rental complex but plans to renovate and convert the city-owned N. Washington property into an office facility for her firm. According to Magnolia Alderman Jamie Waller, the plan will help brighten up the corner lot. 

“A business office would be a good use of that building,” he said.

The sale of the property could have passed Monday with a simple majority City Council vote, but the local governing body elected to delay the transaction and offer a public bidding process before pulling the trigger on a deal. The reasoning for the delay, according to Alderman Jamie Waller, was one of public trust.

“I know they’ve got a great plan for this property, and I think it would be great for the city,” he said. “… but I feel with Steve (Crowell) being a Council member, to make sure everyone is covered … I feel it might be worthwhile to at least put it out to the public that this (property) is for sale.”

The city official did not wish to disclose Crowell’s proposal to the public, citing a potential disadvantage to the party in a potential bidding process, but Waller did say that if no one else made an offer on the property in the allotted timeframe, he hoped the city would move forward with the sale to the local financial advisor.

Steve Crowell was not present at Monday’s City Council meeting to speak further on the matter, but, according to Waller, his wife’s plan for the former Blewster home would be extensive.

“The (Crowell) offer is based on the fact that they are going to have to put so much work into this building, and I’m sure there will be a lot of work,” he said.

Alderman Steve Nipper agreed with Waller’s sentiments about advertising the sale of the building to the public before a deal can be reached.

“I like (the Crowell) offer and what they’re doing, but I feel like the rest of the public needs to know about this and at least have a chance to make a bid on the property,” he said.

To combat any displays of favoritism and make sure the property is not sold to a party that will not invest in improvements, the Council passed a motion that allows bids to be accepted for the purchase of the N. Washington property until next month. The bids, though, must follow a strict set of rules to qualify for approval.

“We have to figure out what will be the best return for the city,” Waller added.

The bidding factors include all of the following:

    • Formal bids amounts for the purchase of the property, plus an estimated cost of improvements at the location must be submitted to the city by Oct. 18.
    • The Magnolia City Council will review the bids and approve a sale at its regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 25.
    • A business plan for future development of the property, as well as a timeline for the property and budget must be submitted as part of a bid package.
    • Full financing for the purchase of the property must already be secured. If a loan is to be taken out for the transaction, a letter of approval from a lender must be secured and submitted, and the estate transfer must be fully paid for within 45 days of the bid approval.
    • Future plans for the property must fall within proper zoning requirements in the city.
    • The city will not automatically accept the highest bid for the sale of the property. The local government will instead evaluate which plan best improves and benefits Magnolia.

Columbia County tax records do not indicate when the home was built, but they do show the former Blewster property was sold to Magnolia Hospital in 1997 for $183,000. There is no publicly assessed value on the property, since the former Home Health location is tax-exempt.

The property is currently used for storage by Magnolia Regional Medical Center, according to Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann. The local hospital, however, broke away from the city government last year and formed an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Because of the separation,  the N. Washington Street property still technically belongs to the former government-associated Magnolia Regional Medical Center, which, by default, is controlled by the city, and means the municipality can now do with the location as it pleases.

According to Magnolia City Attorney Mike Boyd, the local government has no obligation to even bid out the home for sale. The city, with approval from the Council, could sell the N. Washington home to Crowell without going through any traditional bidding, but, once it enters into the process, the parameters must be the same for all parties.

“It’s really up to (the City Council) to decide the how and the who and the how much to sell the property for,” said Boyd. “As long as you treat everyone with the same set of factors, you’re fine.”

The Crowell plan, however, still has a good shot at winning the property. On Monday, Vann stated that the local business owner already has financing for the property, as well as a detailed plan for the building.  She can also finance it and begin work on the office project immediately, should Crowell be the selected bidder. 

“She could write us a check tomorrow,” said the mayor.

In closing discussions on the property, Waller reiterated his excitement for the future of the property, but again stated why the sale is being delayed.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for them and for us,” he said, “but particularly with another Council member, I think we need that extra layer to maintain a level of trust with our constituents and show we are doing our due diligence.”

The City of Magnolia is expected to issue contact information for any potential bidders on its social media pages, as well as place a “for sale” sign in the front yard of the 833 N. Washington property. Showings for the property will be handled via the Magnolia city inspector’s office.

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In other Magnolia City Council News: 

- The Magnolia City Council unanimously approved a bid for a sewer and wastewater project originally scheduled for 2019. The endeavor will see improvements at the Magnolia Wastewater treatment plant facility, as well as sewer lines near Jackson Street. The city received only one bid for the project at $637,485. The lone bidder was RBIS, LLC of Texarkana.  The cost of the project, according to civil engineer Andy Franks, of A.L. Franks Engineering, was only $1,000 over the original 2019 prices. 

- A business item originally set to be discussed Monday pertaining to the 2020 Water Audit was tabled until next month. 

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