SEBRING — Harder Hall construction did not start as hoped last year, and the latest word from city officials is that the new owner wants a funding partner.
Sebring City Administrator Scott Noethlich reports that American Investor Immigration Funds LLC wants a partnership with another company in the state of Florida that has renovated vintage hotels and operated them as assisted living facilities — as is the plan for the 1920s-era local landmark.
Noethlich also said the general contractor originally hired for this job, WDG Construction, is no longer affiliated with this project.
He doesn’t yet know which new company will take over the work, or even when it may start.
Requests for answers from David Roos, real estate developer and consultant on the project, were not returned prior to press deadline on Tuesday.
The city of Sebring hasn’t had a direct stake in what happens at Harder Hall since the city sold the property in 2017 to AII Funds for $2.4 million.
On June 5, 2018, the Highlands County Board of County Commission approved a request to issue bonds to raise construction capital for the project.
The Highlands County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) would serve as a conduit for the bonds, but not actually hold or manage them.
It’s a typical arrangement with Tax Equity Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) bond issues. The bonds have to have a government entity as a conduit, but that entity doesn’t have any financial obligation or commitment to the bonds.
As presented and approved by the County Commission, the issuance would not exceed $45 million, in increments of $25,000.
Commissioner Ron Handley was the lone dissent on the County Commission for the bond issuance.
He wanted more assurance that the project would come to fruition — that renovation would be complete and the building would go back on the tax rolls.
The plan was to start construction in November 2018, as stated last September by Paul Ruby, vice president of South Florida Senior Living.
Those plans got moved back to December and then the spring months.
Ruby said the typical purchasers for the bonds are banks and pension funds.
As of March this year, the bond issuance was still open, said Meghan DiGiacomo, business development manager for Highlands County. In fact, she said, the owners had to renew their request for the allocation through the IDA Board last month.
DiGiacomo couldn’t speak to how well the bonds were or were not selling. She said it was just taking longer than the company had hoped.
The delay has no effect on the county, per se. In March, DiGiacomo stated that no public funds are contributed to the industrial revenue bonds and no government entities — not the County Commission or IDA — had any responsibility to repay or guarantee the bonds.