School goes to Garcia

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 18, 2005

The dilapidated Thomas Jefferson School is about to be transformed into 10 upscale luxury condominiums.

Ending weeks of controversy, the Suffolk City Council voted 6 to 1 on Wednesday to sell the Clay Street building to downtown developer Mickey Garcia.

Garcia will pay $105,000 for the 16,260-square-foot schoolhouse and .6 acres of surrounding property on Clay Street. Within weeks, he will begin a $2.4 million renovation of the 1912 building that has sat vacant for more than a decade.

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Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson, who has repeatedly questioned the equity in the city’s Request For Proposal process, cast the lone dissenting vote. She is also one of several council members who have recently questioned whether the city was selling the school at too far below its assessed value in recent weeks.

Under the state constitution, the sale of surplus public property required the support of six of the council’s seven members.

&uot;I’m sure this is going to go through tonight,&uot; Johnson said, prior to voting. &uot;It would be disingenuous of me to vote for it because I believe we could have gotten a better deal for the taxpayers.&uot;

Before voting, Mayor Bobby L. Ralph said Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson had advised it would not violate conflict of interest laws for him to vote, even though he and Garcia have a professional relationship with the Bank of Hampton Roads.

Ralph sits on the bank’s board of directors while Garcia serves on the community advisory board of the bank’s Suffolk branch. Although Garcia has indicated he intends to ask the Bank of Hampton Roads to fund the project, the bank has made no commitments.

&uot;If the bank is asked to participate, I will remove myself from (future) action,&uot; Ralph said.