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SSC property reported on sale block for $3 million

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Commissioners ignore pleas, OK broker
RUSTY WELLER
Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE - As rumors of an imminent sale swirled, the Ellis County Commissioners Court ignored pleas from alarmed citizens and put the Superconducting Supercollider property in the hands of a local real estate broker during a special meeting Monday afternoon.

Try harder for a better buyer or look closer at using it, the court was told. Still, the vote was 3-1, with Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Brown saying no, to pay commercial broker Bobby Westbrook of Hi View Real Estate of Waxahachie a six-percent commission fee if the SSC property sells during the next 30 days.

'I don't want to give it away,' Brown said before the meeting. 'I've talked to a lot of people who say we need to find use for it, because we'll never get what it's worth.'

Immediately before the vote Brown told the court, 'Several things have come up that we could have used this (property) for, and we're not getting enough money for it. That's why I'm voting against it.'

To which Commissioner Jerry Holland, pct. 2, remarked, 'We're not selling it today.'

The deal, however, already is set, according to news sources, with Burlington Honey of Waxahachie rumored as the buyer. Brown said his source claims a buyer is lined up.

Depending on the source, the selling price varies from $3 million to $5 million on land and buildings valued at $23 million when given to Ellis County.

Westbrook, though, denied a sale is imminent.

'I don't know of any deal,' Westbrook said after the meeting. 'There's no offer on the table. It's all conjecture anyway until you get money up.'

Westbrook, a 30-year veteran, said he has been working on selling the SSC property for several weeks. 'I've got people looking at it,' he admitted. 'I've been showing the property. A lot of people are besides me.'

Tim Burleson confirmed the honey warehouse at 301 Peters St. had looked at the SSC property for its operation but was not interested in buying it. 'Not any more,' he said. Burleson referred other questions to his father, Thomas Burleson, who was unavailable and did not return a call by press time Tuesday.

Five citizens signed up to speak against selling the SSC property at this point.

Representatives from Taxpayers Alliance for Good Government accused the commissioners court of attempting to cover an alleged $2 million shortfall by selling the property extremely below its professionally marketed value.

Jimmy Simmons and Marshall Evans of TAGG used their three-minute allotments to deliver a statement. Other speakers were Milton and Elaine Gallagher and Henrietta Borden.

'TAGG has information that county planners failed to include figures for the architectural fees as well as the cost for city road requirements in their plans for the downtown project,' Simmons said. 'As a result, the county is short approximately $2 million dollars to be able to finish the project. We believe this shortfall is the motivation for the sale of the SSC.'

Simmons raised the issue of the county's new jail, now under construction in downtown Waxahachie, as an example of how the property should and could be used.

'Years ago your own consultant stated that Ellis County citizens could have a Cadillac jail at the SSC for about $6 million,' Simmons said.

After saying the estimated replacement value is between $40 million and $80 million, Simmons asked, 'Why is the county even considering selling it for pennies on the dollar? We know the answer. It is to cover the estimated shortfall on the downtown project.

'Do we simply give away the county's most valuable asset to cover a relatively small problem?' he asked. 'No! Please put your heads together and come up with another solution. Don't choose this act as your legacy.'

Evans asked if a buyer was waiting for the county to be represented by a broker.

'Either there is a buyer just waiting in the wings, in which case why pay a full six-percent commission?' Evans asked. 'This would be $180,000 on, say, a $3 million sale! That's quite a few deputies who have yet to be hired back.'

Or if no buyer is lined up, why Westbrook, asked Evans, who wondered if the local broker is qualified to sell a world-class research and development facility.

'Has he given you gentlemen a plan as to how he will market this in Mexico or another country?' Evans asked. 'Or how about his plan to market it to the Pentagon or lobbying and working with our senators?

'There are even plans in the works for brand new supercolliders as well,' he said. 'How many massive companies worldwide are planning, as we speak, to build or purchase such a facility for 20 or 30 times what you would settle for?

'Are we to believe,' he said, 'that the best world-class international marketing can only come up with a local honey factory?'

Evans claimed the county has never sought to hire 'a real expert' to market the property. Cornelius, though, later named two international marketing firms, Henry S. Miller and Ben Swinger, who tried to sell the SSC for 'more than a year.'

TAGG urged the commissioners to consider another option for the shortfall, such as bonds.

'We ask, if you decide you must sell it, that you get advice on how to find the sort of individual uniquely qualified, who can secure a serious bid on our property,' Evans said.

Calling the move 'ill-advised' and 'politically imprudent,' Evans said, 'Any sale for pennies on the dollar would, in our eyes, represent in the very least gross mismanagement and misappropriation of county funds.'

Milton Gallagher questioned the court's competence and judgment. 'You can't provide a license plate in a timely manner,' he said, 'and now you want to sell the SSC?

'People I talk to feel you've got a gold mine out there,' Milton said. 'If rumors of the price are true, you might as well give it away.'

According to Borden, who has a real estate license, 'Something is wrong when you can't get $6 million. It's not being marketed properly.'

Brown favors trying harder to find a buyer at a better price. 'When you've got a pink Cadillac to sell,' he said, 'you've got to get someone from Mary K to buy it.'

Cornelius, 'amused' at some of the low amounts rumored, said the property was at least worth $10 million, the amount he gave for the cost for the buildings.

He then was asked the cost of the jail project. 'It's $9.3 million,' he replied after checking.

Cornelius also said, from the county's viewpoint, the SSC is 'worth nothing unless someone can use the property. If somebody has a sound idea, I'd be glad to hear it.'

'I've got a good idea,' Simmons retorted. 'Use it as the jail.'

'If you can give me some figures …,' Cornelius said.

'You've already got them,' interjected Borden, referring to the court-appointed jail committee's report several years ago.

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