City might offer Fisher Ferry site to county for jail

Published 11:42 am Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Up to 200 acres of city-owned land purchased for a recreational complex off Fisher Ferry Road could be offered to Warren County for a new jail, following a 2-1 vote of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Tuesday.

Voting against pursuing the sale, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, a former head of the city’s recreation department, said the city has spent too much money on development of the site for a recreational complex to not continue.

“We’ve spent a tremendous amount of money to get it to the point where we can build, at this present time, six ball fields out there,” he said Tuesday during the board meeting. “I know that the money spent on that property improvement was in a bond issue specifically for that and I don’t know what we might have to do or what we might not have to do in order to even offer that property without changing the bond issue.”

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The city has spent more than $1.7 million in improvements to the Fisher Ferry Road site, just north of St. Michael Catholic Church, since purchasing it in 2003 for $325,000.

Construction was put on hold when the city chose last year to reallocate $3.7 million of a 2006 bond issued for the sports complex development and city paving projects to finance replacement of the Washington Street railroad bridge at Clark Street.

City officials have tried unsuccessfully for two years to lobby in Washington, D.C., for nearly $4 million to replace the redirected money and carry on with the recreation complex and the street paving.

Some dirt work has been completed at the Fisher Ferry site, but it has been idle since the funding was detoured.

“The property at Fisher Ferry Road, to me, is not the prime location to sell our community for that type of sports,” Mayor Paul Winfield said after voting to pursue information on the potential offering to the county. “I envisioned an area where you can see from the highway or interstate that is close to our hotels and restaurants.”

An attorney by trade, Winfield said the fine print of the bond issue will have to be examined to see if a change in direction would be legally feasible.

Since March, Warren County has advertised for proposals for land sales for a new jail, which has been discussed and urged by grand juries for years.

District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, who has been the county board’s point man on the jail, said the board needs at least 20 acres of land to build a 350-bed facility to house pretrial inmates.

“I would be interested in looking at their proposal,” McDonald said Tuesday. “This is going to be an expensive endeavor, but this is something we have to do.”

About $20 million will be needed to build the new jail, he said.

Current laws mandate that the jail be built in the city limits, but if a suitable site is found in the county, supervisors may request for a change in legislation, McDonald said.

The Warren County Jail, which can house up to 128 inmates, was built in 1906 and renovated in the 1970s.

It is usually at capacity with pretrial detainees and is not allowed to hold state inmates, McDonald said.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace, whose job places him in charge of the county jail, said Tuesday he had not heard of the city’s proposal and would not comment on its potential worth.