By Vicki Brown
Word&Way News Writer
JEFFERSON CITY – Concerns about costs and location of a new justice center for Cole County may lead to changes in an agreement to sell the Baptist Building in Jefferson City to the county for $2.75 million.
Clyde Angle, a Jefferson City-based attorney, raised two issues at a Cole County Commission meeting on Dec. 22 – a 20-year lease between the Missouri Baptist Convention and the Missouri Baptist Foundation and the possibility of asbestos in the building.
Presiding Commissioner Bob Jones agreed to approach the MBC about amending an Aug. 27 contingency contract between the convention and the county to ensure the MBC, not the county, would be responsible for costs should the convention and Foundation fail to reach an acceptable agreement.
An addendum to the contingency contract notes that the convention agreed to "take all reasonable steps" to clear lease agreements, including "cooperation in an eminent domain proceeding."
In a letter he distributed to commissioners, Angle contended that buying out the Foundation's lease could cost between $200,000 and $300,000. He said he is concerned that Cole County taxpayers would have to pay that cost.
Signed on Dec. 15, 1998, the Foundation's lease was negotiated in exchange for building renovations the Foundation agreed to pay for in 1999. The Foundation borrowed $300,000 from the convention to fund renovation of the fifth and sixth floors and the basement, the elevator lobby area and stairwells on all seven floors and installation of the north-side entrance to the building.
The loan included a six-percent interest rate on $150,000 and no interest on the remainder. The Foundation was to repay the loan within 10 years.
At its April 2001 meeting, the MBC Executive Board forgave $150,000 of the debt with the stipulation that the Foundation place remaining payments as a gift to the MBC's Future Generations fundraising campaign to benefit the Missouri Baptist Children's Home, The Baptist Home, Hannibal-LaGrange College, Southwest Baptist University, William Jewell College and Missouri Baptist University.
"The Missouri Baptist Foundation is willing to resolve our lease agreement issues with the Executive Board…and do whatever is in the best interest of the county," Foundation president Jim Smith said in an e-mailed statement on Dec. 22.
According to Foundation attorney Larry Tucker, Missouri eminent domain procedures would not become an issue unless the MBC and Foundation fail to reach an agreement.
If an agreement could not be determined, the county could formally condemn the property. Missouri statutes note that property can only be condemned for public use and only after a fair hearing is held. The governmental entity also must pay fair market value for the property.
At the meeting, Angle noted that an inspection called for in the contract had not yet been conducted and questioned whether the building might contain asbestos. He reminded commissioners about the cost of removing asbestos, should any be found.
Jones responded that $7.6 million of the $36 million project price tag is earmarked for property purchase and building demolition of the Baptist Building and 13 other properties.
He said county officials believe the $7.6 million also would cover any contingencies.
Jones said the county has "been assured by the Missouri Baptist Convention that there is no asbestos."
Both questions would be mute if Cole County taxpayers vote against a proposed half-cent sales tax hike on Feb. 8.