Local Realtor Laura Hutt and broker David Grego of Island Breeze Realty addressed the Monroe County School Board at its recent meeting in Key West during public comments. They were there to remind the board, and make it public knowledge, of an 11-month-old offer on the table to buy the Marathon Manor property adjacent to Marathon High School on Sombrero Beach Road.
“We presented the $3.4 million offer to the Superintendent and other school officials on July 30, 2013,” Hutt said. “At the time, they were gearing up for the new school year and said they would look at it later. I’ve emailed them several times and still have no response. We wanted to bring it forward at the school board meeting to make the public aware, too.”
The Monroe County School District purchased the property at the height of the real estate boom in 2005 for $7.5 million. The unidentified buyer is offering $3.4 million cash, according to Hutt.
Monroe County School Board member John Dick — who was elected after the board purchased the property — said he’s all for entertaining offers.
“The property has value. Is it worth $7.5 million? I don’t think so. But who knows? I’m for selling it, but I need to know what it would be used for because it’s right next to our high school,” Dick said.
Hutt noted the recent sale of the Hickory House by Monroe County Commission. The county took a $1.1 million hit on the Stock Island property it bought for $3.1 million in 2006.
At the time Marathon Manor was bought, taxpayers were divided on the purchase. Some approved of expanding the high school’s footprint with possible office space, affordable housing for teachers or even a running track. Others decried the school board’s action and called it land speculation.
Marathon Manor was constructed in 1984 as a nursing home. It had 67 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom and a total of 22,000 square feet. In 2007, the Department of Community Affairs agreed to convert the institutional building rights to 50 affordable housing building unit rights. In 2009, the DCA declined to make those transient rental units (hotel rooms). In 2010, the school board apparently expressed interest in demolishing the manor and the City of Marathon responded with a letter urging them to document the process so as to better preserve the rights. Marathon Manor is still standing, but the barrow pit closest to the road has been filled in.
Dick said he’s heard talk that it might be possible to change the affordable housing unit permits to transient rental units.
“If we have the ability to make that change, it would affect the value of the property by a wide margin,” he said. “Remember, the DCA no longer exists. Now we have the state Department of Economic Opportunity.”
Monroe County Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter said the board will likely have a workshop soon to discuss how to proceed and if its possible to get TRUs in place of the affordable building rights . Then it will publicize the bid.
There are also other solutions, he said. Such as deeding the school to another government authority like the school board did with the Glynn Archer Elementary property to provide a new home for Key West City Hall. The board also sold the Harris School in Key West some years ago and used the funds to pay for construction of Horace O’Bryant Middle School. (Under current law, any sale of capital assets can only be applied to other capital projects, and may not be used for teacher salaries, curriculum, etc.)
Hutt said the buyer’s intentions have changed since his offer 11 months ago.
“Right now, he just wants to buy it and hold it. He wants to know what Marathon — the people not the city government — need,” she said. “Marathon Manor is depreciating daily and it’s an eyesore for neighbors.”