The South Orange Board of Trustees (BOT) agreed Monday to move ahead with placing the historic Village Hall, currently in the midst of an estimated $6.5 million restoration project, on the market.
The trustees instructed Village administrators to prepare a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI), which invites potential buyers to submit proposals for the property. The BOT will meet next Monday to take an official vote on a resolution authorizing the Village to move ahead with the RFEI.
After Village Administrator Barry Lewis laid out the township’s three different options for the aging building — continue with the current restoration plan, continue to lease space elsewhere for village offices, or construct a new building on a different site — the trustees agreed to move forward with the option of a sale. Lewis had earlier provided the board with detailed cost estimates for each plan.
The BOT agreed to include in the RFEI the option of purchasing the 72-spot parking lot as part of the sale. Developers could either purchase the lot outright or could propose constructing a different parking lot or structure elsewhere in town to make up for the town’s loss of spaces.
After trustees mulled the idea of exploring a public/private partnership, wherein the Village would retain some financial interest in the building, Village Counsel Steven Rother suggested the township would be better off selling the building outright and not having any continued liability. “You give us a check, we give you a deed,” said Rother.
Trustee Stephen Schnall said he would favor putting as few restrictions as possible on developers. “Developers do this for a living,” Schnall told The Village Green in a phone interview. “Let them be creative and [let’s] not back them into a corner.”
Schnall said he and the other trustees had heard from a number of residents who were in favor of moving ahead with a potential sale. “That supports how we make our decisions; we do listen to residents,” said Schnall. At last week’s meeting, Trustee Sheena Collum, who has been in favor of placing the building back on the market, asked the board to revisit the idea.
The Village had last sought to sell the building in 2011, but received only one offer at the time, which it rejected. The improved real estate market makes a sale more feasible now, said Lewis.
Meanwhile, the building’s asbestos abatement, which will cost the town more than $428,ooo, is set to be completed ahead of a July 1 deadline.
Trustees also agreed to spend $5,000 with a cap of $10,000 on costs to market and advertise the building for sale. The timeline of the project is that bids will need to be received by November 2014; this is to coordinate with the timeline of the building’s renovation.