Eustis city commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday night to selling municipal-owned downtown property at 17 E. Magnolia Ave. to the top bidder -- but for $41,500 less than she offered -- amid attempts to revitalize the area.
For more than a half an hour, commissioners debated whether to sell the property to Pamela W. Rivas, who had submitted a bid of $131,500. Rivas said she hasn't finalized plans yet for the property but would "love to see something that will add to the flavor of downtown Eustis."
"I was envisioning a coffee house with a retail atmosphere to it," Rivas said, "Some place where people can gather."
The vacant three-story building in Eustis' historic downtown Central Business District has nearly 2,300 square feet of leasable space, built in 1929. Six bids came in on the property, ranging as low as $15,000. Only Rivas bid more than its appraised value of $121,000.
The meeting took a turn when George Asbate, president at MEGA Financial & Companies in Eustis, spoke to commissioners for Rivas. He will be leasing the space but said he can't advise Rivas to pay so much for the property. The city, he said, should consider a lower offer.
"I'm having a hard time being able to substantiate a rent for someone who will succeed in there," Asbate said. Rivas "is not looking to be profitable but she's not looking to lose money. She can break even and be happy. I would have a hard time suggesting to her that I would pay that for that building."
Mayor Robert Morin voiced concern that this deal would make the same mistake the city already made with this property. The city sold the vacant building in 2016 to Teems LLC for $184,800 -- but re-acquired the propertylast June after a required annual payment was missed in January and required improvements had not been made, Economic Development Director Tom Carrino said before the meeting.
"The Bistro, closed down. We have Harper's Alley, closed down, Valentina's Sandwich shop that closed down — what are we doing wrong in our city? We need to have people that have — from the very beginning — some sort of a viable project that they can fund and we can feel comfortable will generate some activity for us downtown," Morin said.
Commissioners briefly considered reopening the bidding process, but ultimately decided to give Rivas a chance, instructing the city staff to enter into a contract with her to buy the property for $90,000.
The city advertised the building as being fit for most commercial or mixed-use concepts and is not requiring that the structure be restored.
The building once housed a barbershop and is located in the same block as Wolf Branch Brewery and Tillie's Tavern & Grill, two relatively new downtown businesses. The building has not had a structural analysis and the first-floor occupancy type B could accommodate several types of retail and office uses.
The city bought the Magnolia Avenue property along with neighboring Alexander Park, known as "Pocket Park," in 2016 for $250,000. It kept the park when it sold the building to Teems.
The city has been busy redeveloping its downtown in recent years, investing in streetscaping along Magnolia Avenue and Eustis Street and continuing to develop nearby Ferran Park. The city has partnered with a private investor to rent watercraft from floating public docks on Lake Eustis.
Other bidders included for 17 E. Magnolia included Daniel Matthews, of Orlando; Daniel DiVenanzo, of Eustis; Bob's Associates, of Eustis; Lake RC, Inc., of Eustis and WSJ Investments, of Orlando. Rivas' bid was $59,900 higher than the next-highest submission.
The highest and best use of the property would be commercial development, according to state-certified appraiser John L. Rocker, who valued the property.
"The Lake County area has experienced a slow to steady growth rate in recent years," Rocker wrote, a trend "expected to continue to improve within the foreseeable future."