Hopes that the Florida Legislature would give the city of Winter Haven enough funds to buy the unused Nora Mayo Hall from the state are gone for this year. The reason is a lack of support from Gov. Rick Scott, members of the Polk County Legislative Delegation said.

While the purchase won’t happen this year or perhaps anytime under Scott, legislators said the city eventually will own the building.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, the agency selling the property, has put the former Department of Agriculture building up for bid a second time when it could get its minimum bid price of $3.3 million. Only Winter Haven, which says it badly needs the building because of few large auditoriums in the area, bid on the property. That was $1 million and the state turned the proposal down.

Now it is up for a second bid, and Winter Haven said it can’t offer more than $1 million.

Nora Mayo Hall is not the only surplus building the state has, but it won’t back down from its policy of selling them at fair market value even to the municipality that gave it the land.

“I think most people in this area remember the G. Pierce Wood Hospital in DeSoto County, said Delegation Chairman Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican.The state put it up for bid four times before it got a bid at or above its minimum.

“The state’s process for dealing with the sale of surplus property is pretty hardened,” Albritton said.

Municipalities and counties often need what the state no longer does. And while he agrees with the process behind the sale of surplus property, there needs to be a better way for local government, he said.

“I understand the policy. If it is given away to Winter Haven  then, say,  Palm Beach County or Panama City could say, ‘Well, if they did it for Winter Haven…’”

State Rep. John Wood, Republican from Winter Haven, said the delegation had plans to put in the appropriations bill money, which combined with Winter Haven’s $1 million, would meet the state’s purchase price. The building is in his district.

“We have not been successful in getting the governor’s approval, and most likely he would veto it,” he said.

But Wood said he is optimistic that Winter Haven will get the large auditorium and office complex and not have to wait until the state changes its policy.

“We are talking with the DEP about their appraisal,” said Wood, who said he believes the value of the building should be lower with a closer look.

About The Author

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

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