Our view: A building with a shaky foundation

March 4, 2011 10:35:00 AM



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 A city ordinance governing the CVB grew outdated and went largely ignored over time by both the city and county.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.