Article Comment 

Our view: A building with a shaky foundation




The fate of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau office in the almost-finished new building behind the Tennessee Williams Home is apparently in limbo, with the county balking at the price tag. 


There was a time not so long ago when the CVB operated autonomously. A city ordinance governing the CVB grew outdated and went largely ignored over time by both the city and county. The county board and City Council had the authority to approve purchases, hiring and most other aspects of the CVB''s handling of a 2 percent restaurant tax, which brings in $1.2 million annually.  


Both bodies were apparently OK with ceding that authority to the CVB board, whose members they jointly appoint, and to the agency''s executive director. 


That autonomy ended when the CVB dared trim the amount of money given each year to the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link in its latest budget. Supervisor Harry Sanders, Lowndes County board president and the Link''s best friend, blew dust off the old CVB ordinance and reasserted authority over the CVB. Since then, the CVB''s executive director has departed, old board members have been fired and a new tourism ordinance is being sent to the Legislature. 


In the meantime, no action by the CVB goes unnoticed by the fixated gaze of Sanders. Interim CVB Director Nancy Carpenter, dotting every I and crossing every T under this new world order, came before supervisors to get their OK to pay the remainder of the $734,881 price tag on the new office. Supervisors, after hemming and hawing, decided to seek an attorney general''s opinion to clarify if they are authorized to OK the purchase. This latest bump has dragged on since mid-February. 


At issue is a question of whether the board can approve an expenditure of a building at above its appraised value. The 4,000-square-foot CVB space was appraised at $600,000. The CVB agreed to pay $734,881 for it. The CVB argues that the space includes custom flooring and other amenities that add to its value but may not be reflected in the appraisal. The CVB has already paid $224,000 toward the office space, a budget item rubber-stamped by the county a year ago. 


As the county drags its feet and meanwhile puts the entire project into question -- potentially leaving both the CVB and the building contractor, West Brothers Construction, twisting in the wind, several issues reveal themselves. 


First, it''s troubling to hear the county cry foul at this late date. This board left the CVB to chart its own course, with nary a peep, until the Link brouhaha late last year. Plans for the building, and its cost, have been well known. 


Second: How do you appraise a building that isn''t finished? We believe the project will be a significant enhancement to downtown and bring great returns to the community over time. 


But it''s the county''s right to cry foul, follow the rules and ensure our tax dollars are spent wisely. We just wish the board had shown this diligence toward CVB expenditures from the beginning, before contracts were signed and the paint dried on a building we''re now on the hook to pay for.



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Reader Comments

Article Comment columbus concerned commented at 3/4/2011 12:52:00 PM:

Dear Dispatch Editors,

I read this editorial with great dismay. First, I strongly agree that is it reprehensible that the Supervisor's board ignored its responsibility to the citizens' of Lowndes County by not supervising the CVB thoroughly at all times. The fact that they are now doing this is an activity I welcome, no matter the motivation, which your editorial implies is somehow suspicious because of the timing being post the conflict about the link's funds from the CVB. Again, no matter the motivation, the CVB should have been overseen by a doggedly watchful eye at all times by the County Board of Supervisors. Instead the CVB has used our tax dollars to dole out money to festivals for local politicians to throw events that realistically are not bringing outsiders to Columbus. So our tax dollars are being used by the CVB to help politicians throw thinly veiled political events. The motivation of the CVB looks very suspicious to me and someone needs to keep them in check.

But your editorial lost me completely with the absurd assumption that an appraisal of an incomplete structure is inadequate. Appraisals are how private business receives credit from banks all the time. They are a foundational tool. Of course, they are all based somewhat on speculation but this property has much less speculation than many other projects that depend on an appraisal to receive funding. So, to question the authenticity of an appraisal to be used to determine the value of an office space is silly editorializing that hints at an alternative motive in support of our money being used to buy something from the link at a cost more than what it was valued. You also assert subtle support for Ms. Carpenter by saying she was crossing her t's and dotting her i's. How is that possible? As your own newspaper stated in the original article on this matter, when asked why the CVB agreed to pay more than the appraised value, Ms. Carpenter didn't have an answer and deferred to the previous head, James Tsisimankis, who wasn't there. So, Ms. Carpenter was doing her due diligence but failed to demand an explanation for why the CVB had agreed to use our tax dollars to pay more for something than it was valued? I know the board and city has changed the rules after Ms. Carpenter became interim director to allow the interim director to apply for the job full time, but I hope she does not apply. She has already shown she does not take our tax dollars seriously and requested permission to spend money without full knowledge of why she was paying more than the appraised value. Even your editorial does not list any clear reason for why the CVB agreed to pay more. Special flooring??? Really? How could you not ridicule that as a reason? The tax payers should foot more of our dollars so the office space for the CVB will have special flooring. You can't be serious.

Lastly, the idea that this will benefit Columbus is not based on any evidence. Columbus is suffering a downturn in commercial real estate. Look around. There is empty office space galore. This decision to BUILD a new office space instead of renovating one of the many empty spaces we have currently will hurt those commercial real estate owners already here. There is plenty of empty office space downtown. Why in the name of good sense did the city undercut the private investors who are struggling to fill their vacant commercial real estate properties? And why in this down real estate market would anyone build something and pay more than the appraised value, when we all know the values are sliding? I promise if the CVB didn't move into that space, the link would struggle to get any other company to pay that amount to locate there. This building will not help Columbus at all. It will clearly hurt many private citizens of Columbus, while using our tax dollars to help subsidize its success.


Article Comment bill r. commented at 3/4/2011 2:22:00 PM:

Typically, an architect designs a building to meet the client's needs within a given budget. If the building is outside of the budget, either deductive alternatives have to be taken, or the building has to be redesigned to fit within the allocated funds. Most of these decisions are made in the initial phases of programming and preliminary design, so they can be adjusted as necessary.


Article Comment commonsenseincolumbus commented at 3/4/2011 2:22:00 PM:

According to the original story that ran in this paper in 2009 (Search for New CVB building in the works on this site) there is over $200k in furnishings included with the building. An appraisal wouldn't include those furnishings, would it?


Article Comment kat commented at 3/6/2011 5:25:00 PM:

Why has it taken so long for someone to begin to question where all the money has gone? When were the plans to build this office space approved and by whom? Taxpayers? There seems to be more questions than answers.......


Article Comment mak123 commented at 4/30/2011 4:25:00 PM:

here u should know about the builders and u can get more benefits here....
You cannot see if other builders could build that home at a lower price. With no competition this means it can be a very costly
way to build a home.


Article Comment mak123 commented at 4/30/2011 4:26:00 PM:

here u should know about the builders and u can get more benefits here....
You cannot see if other builders could build that home at a lower price. With no competition this means it can be a very costly
way to build a home.


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