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Now that the tours are over and the numbers have been crunched, a county committee has made a final decision on where to relocate the offices of the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp.
County officials revealed the news Thursday, March 6, that a three-member LCEDC relocation committee had chosen a former medical complex as its suggestion for housing the county’s economic development operations.
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said the search committee, made up of County Councilmen Bob Bundy, Jack Estridge and Brian Carnes, narrowed the options down to one – a medical plaza building at 1033 W. Meeting St.
The 5,892-square-foot brick building, formerly Lancaster Surgical Associates, was built in 2002 and includes 11 former exam or procedure rooms, five offices, a break room, a waiting area and a covered entrance. It is beside Crown Cinema in Plantation Pointe.
The decision was made, Willis said, once the committee decided to look for a location that accommodates multiples uses.
“If the location is approved, it won’t just be used for economic development, but would be LCEDC and Veterans Affairs,” Willis said. “It’s a wide open area. The exam rooms can be turned into multiple offices.”
Bundy commented Thursday on the selection, noting that their final choice was actually knocked out of contention during the committee’s first meeting on Nov. 21, 2013.
“It was on the first list we looked at, but the cost of the office was prohibitive,” he said.
When the committee first considered the building, as well as 15 other locations, the listed purchase price was $849,000, with an additional $50,000 of potential retrofitting costs.
Due to those high costs, he said the committee was quick to cross it off their lists of potential sites.
“Since then, the owner of the building has agreed to come off the price some,” Bundy said.
The exact purchase price was not available Thursday, March 6, though Bundy said the details will be listed as part of Lancaster County Council’s agenda packet for its Monday, March 10, meeting.
After the committee’s first meeting last fall, the group narrowed its selections down to four locations: the Humana building, at 322 Main St.; the former Founders building, at the intersection of Grace Avenue and S.C. 9 Bypass; the former Wamsutta building, across from the Founders building, which was once used as a temporary courthouse; and LCEDC’s current home, the Agribusiness Development Center, at 3578 Charlotte Highway (U.S.521).
Once a short list was created, the committee then traveled to each of the four sites to consider the pros and cons of each potential location. In December, Willis referred to that part of the selection process as “kicking the tires.”
At the time, it was believed the decision would come down to the building’s sizes, as both the Agribusiness and Wamsutta buildings are large, with more than 20,000 square feet of space, while the Humana and Founders buildings are small, with about 4,500 square feet of space.
The committee eventually narrowed the field even further, cutting the list to just the Wamsutta building or the former Humana building.
“Either would have worked, but when we got to the cost and how much it would cost to upgrade the structures to be suitable for an economic development location, that cost was not far apart from building to building,” Bundy said.
But once the price was lowered on the medical plaza building, that option became much more attractive and worked its way back on the list.
“I wrestled with it a lot personally, based on what would be best for the needs of the county as a whole, because we aren’t looking at one agency,” Bundy said. “If we spent too much, it could take away from another department. So then we looked at the real number of costs.”
Bundy said the search committee members were also excited about the prospect of making the new LCEDC building a multi-use facility by including the Veteran’s Affairs office.
The Veterans Affairs office is on the first floor of the County Administration Building on North Main Street.
“This accommodates the VA very well and economic development too. It’s real good news for both organizations,” he said.
One concern Bundy had with the selection is that it will cost more than what they planned.
“We’re over the budget we planned, I’ll admit that. We wanted to use the amount left over from the Air-Rail Park bonds, but if we had done that, it wouldn’t have worked because it wouldn’t suit our needs,” he said. “Making it a multi-use building was what clinched it.”
Now that the committee has made its decision, it will present the suggestion to the full council during its March 10 meeting. Bundy said council could choose to approve the site or could ask for further research.
“The point of this was to find something for economic development. With it being the first thing people are going to see, we needed to make sure it presents itself well, while also fulfilling our budget needs,” Bundy said.
Willis commended the plan for being able to incorporate both the LCEDC and VA offices.
“This will be good for the VA because they need privacy to talk to people about benefits,” he said.
“They have no waiting area and people have to wait in the rooms where employees are having benefits discussions. So, I think this could be a win-win-win for everybody.”
If the VA were to move into the Meeting Street office with LCEDC, it would set off a chain reaction of office moves within the County Administration building, Willis said.
First, the county’s Human Resources office could move into the former VA office, giving them three suites to help accommodate a new insurance clerk. Then a new county attorney position could move into HR’s two-office suite on the second floor of the county administration building.
“It’s all up to council, though. We’ve been talking about hiring a county attorney and with the Affordable Care Act we’ll need an insurance clerk, too,” Willis said.
“So if the VA moves out of the county building, we’ve got some place downstairs. What this would do is knock out a bunch of space needs at once.”
Willis praised the LCEDC committee for its hard work during the process.
“From a staff perspective, the committee has done a great job of working through all of this,” he said.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416