Columbia County commissioners approved Tuesday a nearly $112,000 fee to redesign a planned exhibit hall in the Gateway shopping center even though the primary tenant, The Family Y, wishes to renegotiate its contract.
During the summer, the commission rejected construction bids for the 47,000-square-foot facility in Grovetown when they came in at about $1 million more than the $6 million budgeted for the project.
The redesign fee will be paid to Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial to design a cheaper facility. Commissioner Trey Allen said the redesign might save as much as $800,000 in construction costs.
Also, the county recently diverted $2 million to the exhibit hall project from an abandoned plan to build a facility at the fairgrounds on Columbia Road.
The Family Y initially had agreed to a five-year lease for 20,000 square feet of the exhibit hall to operate a fitness center.
County Administrator Scott Johnson told commissioners that the organization now wants to reduce its space to 16,500 square feet and subsequently reduce its rent. The Family Y’s gym on North Belair Road is about 19,000 square feet.
Johnson said he is working with Family Y officials on restructuring their lease agreement and possibly allowing them to pay on a sliding scale.
The Family Y might initially pay rent below the market price if they agree to rent hikes each year of the lease. At the end of the lease agreement, Johnson said, The Family Y will pay the county more than a $1 million in rent.
Still, Commissioner Charles Allen said he feels too uncertain with the lease negotiations to continue with the project. He provided the lone vote against spending 1-percent sales tax funds to redesign the facility.
Family Y President and CEO Danny McConnell said Allen’s concerns are unwarranted.
“We’re 100 percent committed behind the effort,” McConnell said.
Paying rent on a sliding scale allows The Family Y to save money early in the lease agreement until membership grows.
“We’re opening up a facility in Grovetown that will basically start with no members. ... We’re going to lose money for a while in Grovetown until we build our membership base,” McConnell said. “If we can save money that first year or so, (it) will really help.”
Officials had hoped to open the facility on Horizon South Parkway next month. Johnson said it likely will be December 2012 before it is ready for public use.
McConnell said the lease agreement with the county remains a starting point. Future plans for The Family Y in the Gateway area include a larger facility and water park.