The proposed gifts were the very first topic of discussion Monday during the 2 p.m. work session and the last topic at the 4 p.m. voting session.
At-Large Councilman Richard Banks said he would like to graciously accept the gift if it’s without restrictions and can be sold to a private concern.
“As far as moving any existing city offices from the downtown area, I want to go on the record — I’m totally opposed to that,” Banks said. “It’s inconsistent with what we’ve all worked for the past 20 to 25 years.”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said he also opposed moving city government from downtown.
“I don’t see a problem delaying the acceptance of it,” Rowland said. “We are kind of on their timetable and there are some other people who would like to have the building. It was just thought by these folks that the city of Cleveland deserved the building.”
He said it is a multimillion dollar structure with no strings or conditions attached.
“We’ve been assured there were no restrictions,” Rowland said. “We wouldn’t accept it at all if there were.”
Councilman Charlie McKenzie said the city should accept the property if there are no conditions attached to the gift.
“I think we need to check it out,” McKenzie said. “We need to get that property. I’m not saying move out there, but if it’s free we should take it. We don’t need to wait four weeks, eight weeks or 12 weeks.”
The city has been offered the First Tennessee Bank building and grounds located at 775 Raider Drive N.W. Also, Cleveland attorney James Webb has offered his office building at 283 1st St. N.W. as a donation to the city.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said the rumor is the city is moving its offices to Raider Drive.
“I haven’t heard that or any plans of that,” he said. “If the Council accepts the building with no strings attached, we can sell it the day after closing if we choose.”
He said Cleveland City Schools Director Dr. Martin Ringstaff called him Sunday afternoon from Danville, Va.
“I think you folks have an interest in the building, which could save the taxpayers money,” Rowland said to school board member Dawn Robinson who attended the Monday Council sessions.
The city can lease the building, sell it or consolidate some of the city’s scattered offices, the mayor pointed out. He added, “There are no conditions or stipulations whatsoever.”
Banks said what concerned business and restaurant owners in downtown Cleveland was a line in the Sunday Banner story announcing the gift of the bank building. The story said the gift was made because of the expanding needs of the city due to growth in the city and county, and it might allow the city to consolidate some of its offices to one location.
“I think that caused alarm that we would have an exodus from the downtown area,” Banks said.
He said there has been no paperwork submitted to Council members.
“I would like to table this until our next meeting so we can do our due diligence and answer some of these questions that concern property owners in downtown,” he said. “We just finished First Street Square and have the museum here. We have some new restaurants here. I just don’t want to rush to accept something without knowing exactly what we are receiving.”
Banks presented several questions to the Council which he said represent concerns by downtown property owners. Some of them involve the timing of the Council’s decision, and that more time should be allotted for reviewing the proposal and addressing public concerns.
He said one question deals with additional information about the property owner offering the donation, but Rowland said the donor wants to remain anonymous and he will respect the request.
Banks said other questions involve whether the city is granting tax abatements or special incentives, the presence of any restrictions, the physical condition of the 25-year-old building, maintenance costs, insurance and utilities costs, whether Lee University should be consulted because of its downtown presence, and whether a traffic study should be done on Raider Drive.
Another question, Banks noted, asks if this is the first step toward consolidating city and county governments.