The three-story Grand Karem Shrine building in downtown Waco is valued at more than five times what McLennan County paid for it in 1995, and county leaders are once again discussing selling the under-used property.

The county bought the 90-year-old structure at 701 Washington Ave. in August 1995 for $383,000, when the Karem Shriners moved to a new property off North River Crossing. A few years after the purchase, the county health services department and the child support court moved in.

More than two decades later, storage is the only new use the county has found for the 53,000-square-foot building. County leaders have said the offices and court use less than a third of the building.

A deadline is approaching in a few months to update the parking lot to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and leaders may decide to list the building to avoid the cost of the work, County Administrator Dustin Chapman said. The project is out for bids now, and commissioners have been told it could cost about $178,500.

Even if they decide to list the building, moving forward with the parking lot work could add to its potential sales price, Chapman said.

The building also needs about $119,000 in roof work to prevent leaks into its large ballroom upstairs. That finding came out of a study the county and city of Waco commissioned in 2016 to explore a joint use agreement between the entities. They found renovations to meet their needs would cost $12.5 million, and the option has not been pursued.

Area developers have periodically dropped by county offices to inquire about the property, Chapman said.

Commissioner Ben Perry said county leaders have discussed selling that building for three or four years.

“We’re going to watch something deteriorate before our eyes,” Perry said. “We need some information and we need it rather quickly.”

County Judge Scott Felton said the county is pursuing an appraisal of the property, which has not previously been done.

The formal appraisal will help guide commissioners’ decisions, Perry said.

The McLennan County Appraisal District lists the property’s value as $2 million for tax purposes, almost four times its value in 2014.

The tax appraisal value comes out to $37 per square foot, which would not be unreasonable for a downtown building, said Jim Peevey, of Reid Peevey Commercial Real Estate. He said the building could probably find a buyer as long as it comes with parking.

“It used to be you could buy something at $30 a foot in downtown, but I’m not sure you can anymore,” Peevey said. “There would be a market for it at that price. … I’ve seen $45, $60 even $90 by Mary and Franklin. It’s going to have to find the right attraction, either office or boutique hotel, or it could be entertainment.”

If the commissioners court decides to sell the property, the health services department and the child support court will have to find new homes, along with the items in storage.

Perry said he supports Commissioner Will Jones’ recent proposal to open up downtown county office space by relocating their offices to their precincts’ road and bridge barns. Commissioners and their administrative assistants now work out of offices in the Records Building.

“There is no reason we can’t office at our barns,” Perry said. “The bottom line is we’ve got to make some decisions. We need to have some commitments in place.”

Perry and Felton said the county’s child support court could remain in the Shrine building for a while as a tenant.

“Many times a buyer would like to have a tenant on the first floor before they develop the rest of it, so that’s a possibility that we could do a leaseback,” Felton said. “That would be cash flow for them right off that bat. That’s one option. Another one would be try to find a spot on some property we already have.”

In another step toward reducing its footprint, commissioners agreed Tuesday to sell the former justice of the peace office in Mart. The vacant 2,500-square-foot building at 410 Texas Ave. sold for $62,500, Chapman said.

“We’re looking at efficiency, and what we don’t need, let’s get rid of it,” Perry said.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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