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Lynn Spruill: City shouldn't bank on this bad idea

 

Lynn Spruill

 

A late-developing plan to put the police department into the Cadence Bank building seems to be a fait accompli. 

 

Not only has this train left the station, it's so far down the line, it is almost out of sight. And most likely it won't be stalled no matter what counterproposals might be offered, but I can't help myself. I have to stand on the track and wave a red flag. 

 

Interested Starkville voters should do likewise by coming to the board meeting on Tuesday. It may be the only chance you get to hear about and voice your thoughts on this project before the board of aldermen make it a reality. 

 

I'm waiting to hear the first good reason why we should do this; there are plenty of reasons why we shouldn't. 

 

First question: What does this do to the tax rolls? Answer: It converts an income-producing corner of scarce commercial property on downtown Main Street to a non-income producing piece of public property. 

 

The long-range plan for the police department projected a need for approximately 24,000 square feet to accommodate future growth. The Cadence building, according to the figures available, is 39,000 square feet. The reason two of the previous proposals for a police complex supposedly failed was because it was a "Taj Mahal" version, overkill. I would say an extra 15,000 square feet of space would be that and more. 

 

Speculation has it the courtroom planned for the new city hall may go in the "extra" space and school district offices will go to the bottom floor of the new city hall. I am not sure how that makes sense other than the school district might pay some rent, but there is no way that rent will carry the debt service on the bank and needed improvements. 

 

The Brinkley-Sergeant report recommending a new police facility listed needed features such as locker rooms and showers, conference rooms, command center, additional space for the dispatch area, evidence room, armory, prisoner drop off and, of course, updated administrative offices. 

 

I have been in the Cadence building a number of times for personal reasons. Other than offices and conference rooms, I can't say any of the other exists. Expect costly renovations. 

 

Rule of thumb: Retrofitting is 2/3 the cost of new construction. Even at 1/3 that cost it would be in the neighborhood of $75-plus per square foot. That is over $2.5 million alone in renovation. Now you have reached the magic number of a $5 million building. How do we pay for it? More importantly, do we need it? I may be able to get a sweet deal on a Ferrari but that doesn't mean I need one, or that it's a good idea. 

 

Granted those same renovations will be needed in the current city hall, but we already own that building. We won't have to shell out 2.5 million or better to purchase and renovate it. Even if the Cadence building was free, do we want a multiple-use building there on Main Street? Better the space be used to showcase a business. If the building was to be a city hall housing all our city functions, this would, without question, be a worthwhile notion. But that's not the case. 

 

The difficulty of ingress and egress for emergency vehicles is easy to see. The exit onto North Jackson is treacherous and the entrance/exit off Main has a high traffic volume located very close to the light signal that also has to contend with bus and Main Street traffic flow. 

 

Chief Nichols has added outlying sub-stations to his policing strategy. This is an excellent use of police personnel, but it begs the question, why the need for more administrative office space instead of less? With sophisticated computers in the police cars, office space becomes even less needed. 

 

Seldom-mentioned, but an important consideration, is the increased utility and insurance costs a larger building will require. These added expenses are ongoing. Call me crazy, but I would rather have more and better paid police in state-of-the-art computer-equipped cars than more bricks and mortar. 

 

The current city hall is a landmark building. A little TLC will make it something we can be proud of.  

 

The entity best served by this deal is Cadence Bank, which will unload a building it no longer needs on the taxpayers of Starkville.

 

 

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