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Harrisonburg and Rockingham County are looking into the possibility of purchasing the Denton building on Court Square.

With the city and county continuing to explore purchasing the Denton building in downtown Harrisonburg, some City Council members and county supervisors said they didn’t have much information on the potential deal.

The city and county are looking for more space for courts and judicial offices and have identified the Denton building on Court Square as a possible location.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst previously said local judicial services is facing an increase in overall duties, which include criminal and civil cases, expungements, concealed weapon permit review, among others.

City Councilman Sal Romero said he first heard about the potential purchase at a Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance meeting several weeks ago.

“Obviously, residents want to know,” Romero said. “I have had several residents contact me about it.”

Romero said he has not received a briefing from the city manager or other city staff about the deal.

“Well, at this point, I don’t have any thoughts about it because the situation is very much under discussion,” Supervisor Sallie Wolfe-Garrison, who represents District 2, said during an interview on Wednesday. “And I don’t have an opinion formed at this point.”

In interviews on Wednesday, Deanna Reed, the mayor of Harrisonburg, and Pablo Cuevas, the supervisor for District 1, both said they have not heard much about the deal.

“This stuff is all in the county administrator’s hand,” Cuevas said.

Harrisonburg City Council member George Hirschmann said he was in support of the purchase of the Denton building, but was unsure of the effect on tax revenue the purchase may have.

“We may have to eke out a couple more dollars, but we have a need and we are limited as far as what’s available in the downtown area,” Hirschmann said.

The negative effect on tax revenue cannot be the only consideration, he said.

“If you bring that up in every situation than nothing gets done,” he said.

In fiscal year 2019, which ended on June 30, the Denton building contributed nearly $37,000 to the city’s coffers, according to Karen Rose, the commissioner of the revenue.

If the city and county were to buy the building, Rose said, it would become tax-exempt.

County Administrator Stephen King said on Wednesday that there were no new developments in the ongoing conversations with the Denton family about the building.

In January, the city and county bought the parking lot and two-story building to the south of the Denton building for $425,000 from CFSMCS LLC, according to Rockingham County real estate records.

The city tax-assessed value of the property was $337,300 for fiscal 2019.

The Denton building lies on two parcels with three addresses — 50 S. Liberty St., 58 S. Liberty St. and 61 Court Square — with a combined value of nearly $3.9 million, according to the 2019 assessment.

Larkin Arts, a combined art store, gallery space and studios, Dover Harper Bail Bonds and 44 apartments are in the Denton building.

The Daily News-Record filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails about the deal, but was denied by both the city and county under a provision that excludes governments from having to release information about ongoing land acquisition deals.

Harrisonburg City Council members Richard Baugh and Chris Jones and Rockingham County Supervisors Michael Breeden, Rick Chandler and Bill Kyger did not return phone calls on Wednesday.

Contact Ian Munro at 574-6278 or imunro@dnronline.com. Follow Ian on Twitter @IanMunroDNR

(1) comment

Charles Hendricks

This discussion is far more complicated than whether or not the building is tax exempt or not. There are businesses and apartments that bring people downtown to spend their money in the city. There is vibrancy created by having relatively affordable apartments on court square. There are special events held monthly if not weekly by Larkin Arts that brings interest to court square which attracts people to downtown. If money is the driving force behind this decision, then it needs to stay not only a taxable property, but also a vibrant residential and commercial property. There are buildings and buildable lots, not on court square, that would be viable options for courts expansion very close to downtown, perhaps across the street from the current jail. Taking a building that provides for retail and residential opportunities off of court square and further expanding a building type that by nature shuts itself off from street vibrancy is short sighted and damaging to all the good work done to revitalize the downtown.

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