Commission approves Hollywood’s homeless shelter purchase

Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober and City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark
Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober and City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark

Hollywood commissioners unanimously agreed Wednesday to use $4.8 million of city money to buy a group of tax-exempt homeless shelters and move the shelter operator outside city limits.

City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark called the largest of the properties, a 16,481-square-foot homeless shelter at 1203 North Federal Highway, an obstacle to the redevelopment of the Federal Highway corridor north of downtown Hollywood. She said the city will borrow the $4.8 million and repay the debt with property tax receipts from the Margaritaville resort development under construction on Hollywood Beach that is expected to open in July 2015.

Mayor Peter Bober said the city lost out on “lots of money” in property tax revenue because the homeless population on North Federal Highway discouraged developers from acquiring and improving sites there. The city recorded more than 600 police and fire rescue calls from 1203 North Federal Highway over the last 18 months.

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The commission voted to pay $1.2 million for the main North Federal Highway shelter plus another $1.3 million for seven small rental properties and two timeshare units in Hollywood that homeless advocate Sean Cononie operates as shelters. The city’s $2.5 million payment for the properties exceeds their $2.2 million appraised value. It will pay an additional $2.3 million to help Cononie relocate and re-establish his shelter operation outside Hollywood.

“We handle a rough crowd,” Cononie said during Wednesday’s meeting. About 300 homeless people pay rent to reside at the shelters he runs. Some tenants pay their way by selling copies of the “Homeless Voice” newspaper, which Cononie and his colleagues publish.

The transaction is expected to close in April 2015. A “post-closing agreement” is attached to the purchase-and-sale agreement between the city and Cononie camp. Among other terms, Cononie’s homeless operations must stay outside of Hollywood for 30 years. Violations would trigger financial penalties.

Nonprofit COSAC Homeless Assistance Center owns the shelter at 1203 North Federal Highway and several of the rental properties the city agreed to purchase. COSAC’s main location might end up just outside Hollywood. COSAC has acquired unincorporated land at I-595 and State Road 441 for a potential cluster of homeless shelters, according to Cononie, who runs COSAC with Mark Targett, another member of its board of directors.