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John Wood says state needs to let go of Nora Mayo Hall

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

The state of Florida is sitting on a building it cannot sell, but won’t give it to a local municipality which says it needs it.

In his final year in the Florida House due to term limits, Winter Haven Republican Rep. John Wood said he and members of the Polk County delegation will be fighting to get the state to give (or sell at an affordable price) Nora Mayo Hall to the city of Winter Haven.

Part of the Florida Citrus Building, the hall was left vacant in September of 2014 when the Florida Department of Agriculture moved the last of its offices to the Bob Crawford complex in Bartow.

“I plan to get this into the budget,” Wood said. “I submitted a request last year but didn’t push it because I wasn’t certain the city would offer a payment. Now we are going to see a way to get it. The state wants to get rid of it and the city needs it. I want to see a good-faith effort on the part of the state.”

The 66,000 square foot Nora Mayo Hall was built in 1950 at a cost of $400,000 and named for the wife of Nathan Mayo, who was Florida Agriculture Commissioner from 1923 to until he died in office in 1960.

The hall was rented by the city and various civic groups because its main auditorium can hold 1,000 people and 200 upstairs accommodating concerts, plays, seminars and the traditional Whistle Stop candidate rally.

No other building in the downtown area can hold more than 300, Winter Haven city officials said.

The building was appraised at $4.3 million, but even when the state put it out to bid at a minimum of $3.3 million it found no takers.

The Winter Haven City Commission bid $1 million. The state said “no.”

Newly elected Winter Haven Mayor Brad Dantzler said the city believes the state should hand the building over.

“Winter Haven gave the state the land on which to build it and it will cost us the $1 million we bid to make the necessary repairs and renovations after being empty for a year and a half,” he said.

Wood said the Legislature should make up the difference between what the state agency wants and what the city can afford or turn it over to the city.

“It has been declared surplus. It is not being used and the state wants to get rid of it. What more do they need?” he said.

His colleagues on the Polk delegation would agree.

“The state and the city? That’s like buying from your first cousin; you should get a discount buying from a relative,” quipped Polk County Delegation Chairman Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican, who also chairs the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Committee.

Legislators say Nora Mayo Hall is not the only surplus property the state has, but when there is a need and promise of putting it to use by a local government, there should be help to acquire it.

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

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