The Aiken City Council on Monday gave preliminary approval to the sale of the city's Finance Building, one of several steps needed to pare down the city-owned real estate footprint.
The evening vote was 5-1, with City Council member Ed Woltz dissenting. Mayor Rick Osbon recused himself from the matter. His business, Osbon's Laundry and Cleaners, is adjacent to the Finance Building. City attorney Gary Smith said the mayor would fill out a conflict-of-interest form.
Newly sworn-in City Council member Kay Biermann Brohl on Monday said the city should not be in the real estate business – selling and consolidating is a good move, essentially.
"So I just want to be sure that when we do it," Brohl said, "that we're doing the best for Aiken."
A second approval is necessary for the sale to move forward, and that likely won't happen until after Dec. 9. More public hearings are planned.
WTC Laurens LLC has offered $1.2 million for the Finance Building, 135 Laurens St. SW, which currently houses the city manager's office and the city's financial department.
Negotiations with WTC Laurens, managed by Tom Wyatt, began about three months ago. Wyatt also leads WTC Investments LLC, the group angling to demolish the old Aiken County hospital and in its place construct a boutique hotel, large conference center, an amenity area and an apartment complex.
"They made a concrete offer at the right time, which we've discussed with council," City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said Monday. Woltz described "WTC" as "good people," but questioned the quality of the deal.
The actual sale doesn't need executing until early 2022, as the city plans to shift east and make a renovated Regions Bank building its new headquarters. That project at 107 Chesterfield St. S is expected to take more than a year.
The city bought the Finance Building in 2011 for $750,000, according to Aiken County property records. About $902,000, Bedenbaugh said, was spent on improvements and renovations. That brings the total to more than $1.6 million.
A recent appraisal came out at $1.3 million, according to City Council's back-and-forth discussion Monday night.
City Council member Ed Girardeau, who works in real estate, said he reviewed the appraisal.
"They've agreed to pay us 1.2, with the caveat we get to stay for two years," he said, "which is worth something."