The Hamilton Building’s days as a temporary library are almost up. Its days as a city asset could be up soon, too.
The Venice City Council voted 4-2 last week to direct City Manager Ed Lavallee to market the property for sale or lease.
Mayor John Holic and Vice Mayor Bob Daniels voted against the motion because they only wanted to look at leasing the building for now. Council Member Jeanette Gates was absent for the discussion.
The city bought the office condominium building a little more than three years ago for about $1 million with the thought of using it for parking — either as a parking lot or, at some point, a parking garage.
Shortly thereafter, the county shut down the Venice Public Library over mold issues and approached the city about transforming the Hamilton Building into a temporary one.
The new permanent library opens Dec. 15 and the contents of the temporary one have been transferred, though it remains open until Dec. 8 for picking up reserved items; returning borrowed items; and reading newspapers, magazine and periodicals.
Several hundred parking spaces have been added to the city’s inventory in the meantime, including some under the KMI Bridge adjacent to the Hamilton Building, so the property isn’t currently needed for that purpose.
And it really isn’t needed for any other, Lavallee concluded after lengthy analysis.
City staff could use more space, he said, but there’s a plan to expand city hall and keep most functions centralized.
Giving at least part of the building over to the Venice Museum & Archives was another option, but start-up costs for a museum annex would be about $750,000, he said, with annual costs of $140,000.
In addition, Lavallee said that the possibility of having a museum annex separated from the so-called Culture Campus shared with the Venice Community Center and library was causing some “angst.”
Converting the building to a clinic or gym for city employees, as some of them suggested, would also involve new costs when the city’s focus should be on using the building to produce revenue, Lavallee said.
Its market value remains about $1 million, he said, while estimates of the annual rent that could be brought in run from about $140,000 to $160,000 a year.
Under a lease, the city would still have maintenance and repair responsibilities.
It’s already known that the building needs a new roof, which will cost about $125,000. Depending on interest in the building, it might be necessary to re-install some interior walls that the county removed to open the 9,400-square-foot building up for a library.
In spite of that, Holic and Daniels wanted to hang on to the building, preferring a revenue stream over a one-time injection of money that a sale would bring. It would also give the city the option of doing something with the building later.
“I’m a big advocate of keeping the building because once we get rid of it, we’re never going to have it again,” Holic said.
He also opposed marketing it for sale now because by buying it, the city resolved a problem with access to the nearby building where Venice Area Beautification Inc. has its office. That property, which the city already owned, is only accessible by driving across the Hamilton Building property.
It’s also only possible for emergency vehicles to access the northern part of the Venetian Waterway Park from that area by crossing it.
If the building is going to be put up for sale, Holic said, those issues should be resolved first.
Even Council Member Helen Moore, who said she would hate to see the building sold because “you only sell it once,” voted against just concentrating on a lease.
“You can always take it off the market,” said Moore, a residential Realtor.
In making the motion to pursue a sale or a lease, Council Member Rich Cautero said the building isn’t a “core government asset” and the city has other buildings to focus on — and for which it needs money.
The preliminary cost estimates for the planned public safety facility on East Venice Avenue exceed the budgeted amount and only the first of five $1 million payments the council has committed to over the next five years for capital projects — including replacing Fire Station 1 by City Hall — has been made.