School District still stymied over what to do with former nursing home it bought during housing boom

skinney@keynoter.comJanuary 18, 2014 

What to do with Marathon Manor?

That's a question the Monroe County School District has been kicking around essentially since it bought the former nursing home for $7.4 million, when the South Florida real estate market was red hot in 2005.

The topic came back up Tuesday when the School Board met at Marathon High School, on Sombrero Beach Road adjacent to the building and six-acre parcel.

Board members broached two general concepts during the informal discussion: Sell the property as is or try to convert the 50 affordable-housing building permit allocations tied to it into potentially more value transient building permit allocations, which could then be marketed for sale.

Marathon board member John Dick said the best way to determine the market is for School District staff to prepare a request for proposals for firms to make a pitch.

He also said it's important that the board know what a potential developer is going to do with the property to ensure a "compatible use" with the adjacent middle/high school.

"I think we need to explore it all the way," he said. "We've got to know what [a potential buyer is] going to do with it."

When the district bought the property, it envisioned Marathon Manor being converted to teacher housing, and allowing for more school parking.

Board member Andy Griffiths in 2012 pitched an idea to "convert" the affordable permits to transient licenses, which he brought back up this week.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity decides how many building permits the Keys get each year.

The guidelines associate certain numbers of occupants and vehicles with particular types of construction, using that data to construct a hurricane evacuation time model that would allow for all Monroe County residents and tourists to leave the island chain before disaster strikes.

Last year, Marathon received from the state 100 new transient allocations, as well as the right to borrow forward 100 more from its 24 annual transient allocations; 65 units were awarded by the City Council to four resort developments.

Picking up on that, Griffiths said, "Right now the city of Marathon is going through extraordinary renovation of its lodging sector. This is the time, while we have this governor and this Department of Economic Opportunity, to get in partnership and create the value and sell off the rights."

Dick questioned that because "those transient rights could be useless and the value is almost nil because there are so many of them available."

Not true, said Marathon Planning Director George Garret.

"There is some demand and the City Council has asked me to give them an analysis of that," he said. "There are a number of projects that would like to do some things and potentially expand."

He also said there's "no mechanism in the city's code to" convert affordable-housing allocations to transient. "We'd have to change our comprehensive plan," which would be approved by the DEO.

After purchasing Marathon Manor, the district entered into discussions with Cay Clubs Resorts and Marinas about turning the space into a multi-function affordable housing complex.

That fell through in April 2007, shortly before Cay Clubs went belly-up. Later talks with Marathon officials about using the building as a city hall went nowhere.

In 2012 West Palm Beach developer Jack Weir of Eastwind Development LLC made a surprise offer of between $1.5 million and $2.7 million for the unused property, dependent on if the property could be converted to housing. That, too, did not materialize.

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