At the April 25th Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, commissioners discussed a proposal by the Hernando Growers Association (HGA) to purchase the building they currently occupy, called “The Little Rock Cannery,” from the county for 12 percent of the appraised value. The unusual request to purchase this property at 15487 Citrus Way for $10,000 comes after the county decided it would no longer be maintaining the building, and informed HGA that their lease would be terminated in the near future.
The board voted unanimously to designate the property as surplus, to allow usage of the property for non-county government business. It is not known why the property was not designated as such when the property was originally leased to HGA. Additionally, HGA’s lease will be extended on a month-to-month basis until the building is either sold at market value during a time period to be determined, or purchased by winning bid after that period expires.
The current valuation according to the Hernando County Property Appraiser’s Office is $82,123. The low offer is due to extensive repairs needed on the building, which will cost approximately $200,000, according to County Administrator Jeff Rogers.
Initially in favor of the proposal, Commissioner Brian Hawkins said, “It was a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of repairs that we were not willing to do. (HGA) is adding a benefit to the community.” The Cannery is the last of its kind in the state.
Commissioners debated the value of the building and land, and the viability of HGA’s business at the intersection of US Highway 98 / Ponce De Leon Boulevard and Citrus Way. All commissioners acknowledged HGA’s value to the community, but questioned the sustainability of their operations.
“Part of the problem is where it’s located,” Commissioner John Allocco said, referring to the fast-moving intersection where a traffic circle was recently constructed as a traffic calming mechanism. “I don’t think (DesChamps Corner) that’s next to the circle, is excited to be next to the circle.”
The Cannery property was sold to the county in 1974 by the school district, then called the Board of Public Instruction. On the Warranty Deed dated September 10, 1974 is a “reverter” clause which states, “Should the property herein cease to be used for public education purposes, title thereto shall revert to the Grantor.”
On February 13, 2023, a quitclaim deed signed by the school district released its reversionary interest, granting these rights to the county.
Commissioner Jerry Campbell was also in favor of HGA’s request. “To Commissioner Hawkins’ point, if you look at shifting the liability of this property from Hernando County and the taxpayers to a private organization that will be paying taxes, I think it’s a win-win.”
Commissioner Steve Champion does not believe the property would sell for less than $150,000 on the market, as-is. “It’s not fair to the taxpayers to give it away for ($10,000).” Champion is confident that the property is in an excellent location for a restaurant, with little commercial property nearby to offer competition.
Rogers added that the cost of repairs to the building exceed its value. “The County staff made the determination to the board last year during the budget session that a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of repairs to the building would be needed to maintain the flooring, potentially the walls — staff determined that the investment in the building was more than the value of the property going forward.”
It was then that the county informed HGA that it would not be maintaining the building, which resulted in HGA’s offer. Angela Okrasinski, representing the Hernando Growers Association told the board that if the county sells the property at market rate, HGA’s operations would cease.