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Commissioners To Consider First Step On Fairgrounds, Bus Garage Properties

The timing and the order of the things. That was the focus Monday night as Putnam County Commissioners held a work session on the sale of the fairgrounds and the possible sale of the Highway Department and School Bus Garage.

Commissioners are considering a possible spring sale for the fairgrounds property. Appraisers valued the 35.5 acre fairground space last year at about $10.1 million. County Mayor Randy Porter said that appraisal will be updated by the Commissioners’ December meeting.

Several commissioners Monday night expressed a desire to sell the old fairgrounds before spending money on the new facility set to be built on Tennessee Avenue. Porter said an agreement to sell might include a stipulation that the 2021 fair be held at the Veterans Drive site. That would allow construction to start on the new facility.

Commissioner Jonathan Williams among those who worried that would hold up the sell.

“If I’m a developer and I’ve got money tied up, I don’t want to buy in the spring and then have to wait nearly a full year or six months or eight months before I can start work,” Williams said. “That stipulation might be hard.”

Porter said commissioners need to consider whether they are willing to go one year or more without a county fair.

“There could be a thing put in that the stipulation is there, but if they didn’t want that stipulation, how much extra are they willing to pay not to have that stipulation,” Porter said. “The thing you got to decide is do you want to go two or three years without the fair. That’s the decision the commissioners have to make.”

The land must be sold by internet auction, public auction or sealed bid. A floor would be set outlining a price under which the county would not sell.

“We’re not going to take less if we put a floor on it,” Commission Chair Mike Atwood said. “If we don’t get it, it’s not going to sell.”

Several commissioners had asked about the possibility of also selling the highway department and school bus garage property located across South Jefferson Avenue, adjacent to Wal Mart. The 8.1 acres on which those facilities sit appraised at $2.8 million several months ago.

The Highway Department building was constructed in 1964. Porter said no one knows for sure when the school bus garage was built. The school bus offices are in a former portable classroom. He said both facilities are well past their prime.

“I don’t know how the school bus garage actually functions,” Porter said.

Porter said the facility could also be moved to Tennessee Avenue on land the county purchased across the street from the fairgrounds site. A 15-acre piece at the back of the property could house the facility. Porter suggested the idea of building one facility with the highway department on one end and the bus garage on the other, allowing for shared utilities and other expenses.

Commissioner Jimmy Neal suggested moving all county maintenance including the facilities located adjacent to the Cookeville Community Center out to Tennessee Avenue.

“Could we not have a state of the art garage facility, have all of the maintenance there,” Neal said. “Because the way I see it, let’s say I’m working on a dump truck and I’ve got a problem with something, I can’t hardly figure it out, I can go walk over and ask the guy on the bus. If we just put it all together in one building and clear this land up and put it back on the tax rolls.”

Porter said, while speculating, that he thought the county could construct a new maintenance facility for about 50 percent of the land’s appraisal price.

In addition to new facilities, prime real estate would also be placed back on the tax rolls. Porter said if retailers occupied the space, the county would also get sales tax benefits. Porter said several developers have reached out to the county about that land, but none in recent months.

Commissioner Cindy Adams said with the jail expansion, a new fairgrounds and a new school needed, she worried about over-extending the county. Porter said ultimately, the land sales could pay for both facilities with some money leftover for servicing other debt.

County commissioners will meet Monday to give approval for Porter to move forward with preliminary drawings and cost estimates on the projects. Upland Design has already been working on designs for the fairgrounds, expo center, and pavilions. Porter said he would like committees made up of commissioners, fair board members and other citizens to work on the ideas.

“(It’s) about pursuing the ability to find out what the cost is going to be for all that reconstruction,” Atwood said. “I think it’s important that we try to learn how much it’s going to cost us.”

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