Kees family responds to City Hall relocation decision

Published 3:58 pm Thursday, June 6, 2024

The City of Brookhaven recently voted to move forward with negotiations to relocate City Hall into the former Hartman-Harrigill Funeral Home building on West Cherokee Street.

At the Board of Aldermen’s most recent meeting, Ward 6 Alderman Andre’ Spiller appeared before Mayor Joe Cox and his fellow board members as a citizen rather than in his government role. He questioned and criticized the decision to move, and said that the owners of the Kees Motor Company building on South First Street had not been consulted prior to the vote. The former automotive building, owned by Gerald Kees and family, had been earlier discussed as another option for redevelopment as a new City Hall.

Mayor Cox responded to Spiller by reiterating earlier comments that both the City and County governments needed more space, necessitating a move by the City from the County-owned Lincoln County/Brookhaven Government Building to a different location.

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Cox also said that he had met with representatives of the Kees family, and that the property under consideration was not an option for the city, coming down to “a simple math problem.”

“The approximate demolition cost of the remaining structures located across the street on South First Street is over $1 million, let alone the additional new construction costs, as provided by a local commercial contractor, which exceeded $6 million. And I got another quote [Tuesday], which the figure is over $7 million, just for the building.”

Chris Kees, son of Gerald, said Wednesday that the mayor’s stated estimate was “based on incorrect square footage and other significant errors.”

“We love Brookhaven and Lincoln County and would have welcomed the chance to negotiate the sale of property to support building a new city hall,” Kees said. “In November 2023, I responded to the mayor’s board-directed initial inquiry with the attached offer of $9.50 per square foot for up to 65,000 square feet, or $617,500 for the entire tract ‘as is’; we never received a counter offer.

“I also informed him that we were proceeding with our long-term plans to support redevelopment of the property, beginning with demolition of one of the larger buildings on the site, which we completed, including addressing all environmental issues. The total was $135,850. My sister, Jane Clary, informed the board of the new price, $11.59 per square foot. That price is simply the initial price plus the actual demolition cost, as stated in my initial offer, and was not a result of negotiations.”

Kees said the million-dollar demolition estimate cited by Cox appeared to refer to an estimate produced by the City for $600,000 in total demo costs, plus unspecified environmental and site-prep costs.

“This estimate included demolishing most of the original Kees Motor Company, which was never part of the offer,” Kees said. “So, the mayor’s estimate is based on incorrect square footage and other significant errors, all of which we explained a year ago. We believe the true cost of the remaining demolition for the entire 65,000 square-foot lot to be under $250,000, based on the actual cost and our experience completing the recent demolition project.”

Kees said he could only say regarding other figures that he had never seen any actual plans for site prep or new building construction, “neither has any city representative asked to enter the property for the purposes of studying the site.”

“I was surprised and disappointed to learn through an article in The Daily Leader that the city council had voted in closed session to move forward with the funeral home without the public being presented with construction and operating cost estimates or any serious designs for some or all of the tract,” Kees said. “We believe new development on the east side of town would benefit the city and county, and our family will continue to pursue opportunities to revitalize the area.”