Osceola Sheriff Russ Gibson has been eyeing a vacant Publix store at the intersection of U.S. 192 and International Drive for more than a year to serve as a new West District command center for the county's booming tourism district.
When it came on the market this month, he and County Manager Don Fisher tag-teamed the W192 Development Authority board for $2 million in its Fiscal 2019 budget to seed the purchase.
"I know of no other way to purchase the property," Fisher said. "I’m positive we could not pay for it from any source."
Fisher said the building is listed for $5.8 million, and he would have to cobble together funding from Tourist Development Taxes and other sources, including the $1.5 million that was earmarked for Bus Rapid Transit on W192.
Gibson said the store is large enough -- at 49,000 square feet -- to allow him to relocate 150 personnel from the headquarters building on E192 and still have space for a community room. It sits on 5.5 acres in the heart of the tourism district. It has ample parking, and would dramatically increase the law enforcement presence on the county's west side.
"We want to create a safe space along the corridor so millions of visitors feel safe and have a great time," he said. "Your job is to give them the best experience you possibly can. Tourism is what we thrive on. This is what drives our economy here in Osceola County."
Fisher pressed the board, asking which they would rather have in the vacant building: a discount retailer like Big Lots or a sheriff's office.
It really wasn't a hard sell.
Though some board members questioned the cost and timing of the request, they unanimously agreed to add the station to its master plan as a high priority. They also revised the 2019 budget to reallocate funding that was earmarked for a project to bury power lines.
Chairman Hector Lizasuain said the building store has been vacant ever since Publix opened its Celebration store six years ago. The grocer maintained its lease, which had a non-compete clause, preventing the landlord from signing another supermarket.
"As a board, we're responsible for looking at growing the economy," Lizasuain said. "We have to look at this as an investment. Even though the property will come off the tax rolls, other property values around it will increase."
Fisher said he would ask the Board of County Commissioners on July 9 to authorize him to begin formal negotiations with the seller, Xentury City. The county could be required to seek two appraisals, and Fisher said he would seek a 90-day due diligence period to inspect the building.
"If the appraisal doesn't come back the way we expect, we would look at other locations," he said.
Fisher said if the county does purchase the asset, it could take up to three years before the Sheriff's Office could occupy it.
He also will try to entice Experience Kissimmee to lease 15,000 square feet of the building for its offices. The tourism agency's office lease in the Disney-owned Celebration Center expires in two years, he said.
Robert Holborn, general counsel for the sheriff's office, said the facility would have holding cells to process suspects and a sally port for secure transport. There would be no suspects jailed overnight at the facility, he said.