Franklin County and the city of Washington have agreed to market and potentially sell a plot of ground they own jointly near the Phoenix II shopping center in Washington.
Ownership of the 29.2-acre property is a 60/40 split with the county owning the larger portion. The county owns 18.2 acres and Washington owns the remaining 11 acres.
Up until this week, both entities had agreed they would donate their portions of the land to the state of Missouri in an effort to lure the construction of a new veterans home to Washington.
The Missouri Veterans Commission (MVC) has hired a firm to conduct a yearlong Veterans Needs Feasibility Study to determine if a new veterans home is warranted or sustainable somewhere in the state.
The final presentation of the feasibility study is forecasted to be given to the MVC by mid-October 2019.
One of the key components of the $127,000 study is to determine if a new home is needed and finding a location within 90 miles of the current St. Louis facility.
The property was donated to the city/county in May 2006 by developer Joe Vernaci as part of the original development agreement for the Phoenix Center II project.
Part of the agreement was the city/county could not sell the property for five years and if and when they did sell, Vernaci would be given first rights to buy it back.
On Tuesday, the county commission voted unanimously to have the property reappraised and then advertise for a real estate agent to market the property for sale.
Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said the cost for the appraisal and the realtor will be split between the county and Washington.
“It’s time to turn that property into liquid instead of just an asset,” Brinker said. “With this approval we will proceed accordingly.”
In September 2015, the value of the property was appraised at just under $2.2 million or $75,000 per acre.
Brinker added there has been no new discussion about a veterans home in Washington in almost two years when both state budget constraints and bed limitations closed the window of possibility.
“We’ve marketed the property since then, but haven’t had any takers,” Brinker said. “The prospect of the veterans home and its impact on Washington and the county was very carefully and thoughtfully reviewed. We’ve had no indications that it is going to occur, so it’s in the best interest of the county to sell the property.”
In January, Washington City Administrator Darren Lamb felt the city council would still be willing to donate the land, but like the county, they have decided to move forward with selling.
“I’m not aware of any other offers we have had on the property and we’ve allowed the county to take the lead since we have no pressing need to market it,” Lamb said. “Although I think the value of the property might be less now.”
The city is discussing several major projects that could be funded by the city’s half-cent capital improvement sales tax.
During conversations, a water tower and fire station have been mentioned as potential uses for the portion of the property owned by Washington.
When the veterans home first was discussed, the city wanted to know if the site could hold both a veterans home and potential city buildings. It was decided the city’s plans would not interfere with the footprint of a proposed home.
Lamb said the city needs about 1-2 acres for its projects. He said if the St. James veterans home was dropped onto the property right now, it would fit perfectly with plenty of space for city of Washington facilities.
In March of 2016, Lamb and members of Washington Chapter 324 of the Korean War Veterans Association presented preliminary drawings to the county commissioners showing the approximate footprint of a facility on the Phoenix II site using the current 150-bed veterans home in St. James as a model.
Lamb explained, if built, the home could generate 185 jobs with an average salary of $32,000, which would add $5,968,583 into the local economy annually. In February of 2017, the construction of a 200-bed facility was estimated by the MVC to cost upward of $63 million and cost about $15.5 million to operate annually.
A scaled-back design consisting of only 150 beds, would still come with a price tag of $50 million and have $12 million in annual operating costs for the state.
Adversely, the addition of an additional nursing care facility also could increase the call volume of Washington EMS by about 150 calls per year.
It costs about $250 per day to house a vet and the state then gets matching funds from the federal Veterans Administration.
Currently, the MVC manages 1,350 beds at the veterans homes, and there are 761 veterans on a waiting list for veterans home space.
In December 2018, $13 million in renovations were completed to the home in north St. Louis as part of $35 million in veterans home construction projects that will also include the St. James and Cape Girardeau facilities.
The projects are 65 percent federally funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs with the remaining 35 percent funded by the state.