By Reggie Ellis
Visalia, Calif. – Tulare County’s former courthouse sold last week for $2.3 million to make way for a new, luxury hotel set to open in early 2020.
The Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the sale of the vacant four-story building on Court Street to Elderwood Capital LLC, a holding company for project developer Courthouse Square Ventures, at its Dec. 19 meeting. The effective date of the sale will be Jan. 1, 2018 when an initial deposit of $25,000 will be made.
Matt Ainley, lead developer of Courthouse Square Ventures, said the sale of the property should by complete by July 2018. He expects construction to begin this summer and take approximately 18 months with the new hotel opening in February 2020.
“We are excited about this project,” Ainley said.
County staff began negotiating with the Courthouse Square Ventures on Oct. 17 when the supervisors approved its proposal to renovate the building while keeping its art-deco style architecture in tact. In their proposal, Ainley’s development team stated it will transform the abandoned government office space into a privately-owned, 28-room boutique hotel. Named “The Darling,” the hotel will pay homage to the building’s classic Art Deco architectural style of the 1930s, similar to the style of The Great Gatsby.
A pool and bar would cover 1,800 square feet of the rooftop with the other half being dedicated for a bar and lounge. The 28 rooms would be luxury suites between 275 and 500 square feet on the second through fourth floors. In addition to a grand lobby, the ground floor would feature a spa, wine cellar, two meeting rooms as well as 100-seat restaurant and lounge that will be open to the public.
The 82-year old building will need to be totally restored given its current state. The building’s main entrance and mezzanine-level restrooms do not meet current ADA requirements, it contains hazardous materials such as lead-based paint and asbestos and may need structural renovation as it was built with poured-in-place concrete.
The four-story building was constructed in 1935 as an expansion of the original County Courthouse built in the 1880s. The 22,300 square foot modern structure was designed by Ernest J. Kump and constructed by Frank J. Reilly and is considered a gem of the Public Works Act of the New Deal with its “Art Deco façade and monument-like presence.” The building housed the County Board of Supervisors, Treasury, Auditor, Assessor and Purchasing departments until 1952 when it became the acting Courthouse after the original was damaged by an earthquake with an epicenter in Tehachapi. When the current Courthouse was constructed in 1958, the building was used for a variety of purposes but has been vacant since 2008.
County Holds Other Courts
John Hess, Deputy CAO for County General Services, used the sale of the former courthouse as a lead-in to a discussion on the future of other county-owned facilities such as the Courthouses in Porterville and Tulare. Hess recommended that the County retain the former Superior Courthouse in Porterville for now with the intent of renovating it as county office space or selling it at a later time, as the California Administrative Office of the Courts holds 54% equity in the building. Hess told the supervisors that the County has received a Letter of Interest from a developer to construct a new office building which would be customized to fit the needs of County staff in a location that is in close proximity to the new Porterville Justice Center on Olive Avenue.
The same could not be said for the Superior Courthouse in Tulare, where Hess recommended the Supervisors declare the building as surplus and begin the process to sell it shortly thereafter, as the California Administrative Office of the Courts holds 70% equity in that building.
The County will retain possession of farming acreage around the Government Plaza and the former Harmon Field Airport, which is still being evaluated by General Services staff.
The sale of property is not the only way the county is making money. The Supervisors also voted to list 20,000 square feet of vacant office space at the Tulare-Akers Professional Center, located at 5300 W. Tulare Ave. in Visalia. There are currently two spaces of 15,000 square feet and 4,000 square feet available to lease out.
Hess recommended that the County market the larger space now but retain the smaller office because of its location next to the Sheriff’s Office and Fire Headquarters.
Repurposing TCOE, Government Plaza
The County then awarded the contract for Phase II of its plans to improve or relocate facilities to Forcum-Mackey Construction, Inc. The $5.4 million contract is to renovate the former Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) Building on Burrel Avenue and Government Plaza on South Mooney Boulevard. The bid was $1.2 million below the architect’s estimate. Hess said the money the County has saved on the project will go toward improving landscaping at Government Plaza building.
The former TCOE building will be converted into the new home for General Services department. Construction on that building could begin as early as Jan. 1, 2018.
Construction on the Government Plaza will begin around the same time beginning with the Health and Human Services Agency wing, then move on to Human Resources & Development, County Counsel, TCiCT. The phase should be completed by June 2019.
The Phase III portion of the County Wide Space Improvement Project includes the renovation of the current Tulare County Superior Courthouse. Phase III is currently in plan development.