Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Local News

Plenty of ideas floated for Harder Hall, but none so far a go


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SEBRING - There's no shortage of ideas about what Harder Hall could be. But the former hotel, which is up for sale by the city of Sebring, remains empty as it has been since the 1980s.

Sebring Assistant City Administrator Bob Hoffman said it will take a certain combination - a person with enough money to restore the building and a good idea of how to use it will make enough money for the buyer to cover the restoration costs.

Hoffman said during and after the time in 2012 that two promising proposals were made to the city and after those fell part, many people by phone or in person have submitted other ideas.

One of the prospective buyers was the owner of a Yoga foundation, Hoffman said. But don't look for the opportunity to practice yoga at Harder Hall anytime soon.

"I don't think it's going to go," he said, although adding it could still be a possibility.

One way may evoke images from a Charles Dickens novel. Another possible buyer suggested that Harder Hall could become an orphanage, Hoffman said. But so far that prospective buyer hasn't returned.

Either of those ideas would be far removed from the original use of the building. Harder Hall was built in 1927 and named after developers Lewis F. Harder and Vincent Hall. It was originally a hotel and golf resort.

Through the succeeding decades, it went through different ownerships until foreclosed on in 1980.

Eventually, the city gained ownership in 2006 and has been trying to sell it ever since.

The city has gotten about 10 responses to an ad placed on loopnet.com. Besides that, real estate agents can get a 4 percent commission if they find a buyer.

Last year, a Delray Beach corporation submitted a bid of $4.2 million to buy the building, but never followed through with the required $100,000 deposit. That corporation proposed to use it as a rehabilitation center.

While that idea may have been feasible, some of the other proposals appear to be somewhat more tenuous, Hoffman said.

Recently, one man from New Hampshire who said at one point he had rented space for a business in Harder Hall, proposed that he would sell stock to pay off what the city owes to a bank, Hoffman said.

If not enough stock was sold to cover what's owed to the bank, investors would get their money back, Hoffman said.

But if the stock covered the cost, then the New Hampshire man would gain ownership and make it into a hotel and spa, he said.

However, there was a big "if" in the proposal, Hoffman said. The Securities and Exchange Commission would have to change its regulations to allow the stock sale, he said.

The city has told the New Hampshire man to get back with the city if the regulations are changed, Hoffman said.

Another man who was once an elected transportation official up north suggested that he might be interested in buying the building as a home for himself, Hoffman said. But, so far, no formal proposal has been submitted, he added.

The man also suggested the possibility of using the site as an elephant refuge, Hoffman said.

"I don't think that would go over well in that neighborhood," he added.

A woman born and raised in Sebring who owns "a media business" in California was interested in possibly moving the media business to Harder Hall, Hoffman said.

But after visiting Harder Hall, she has yet to make a proposal, he added.

A group suggested Harder Hall could be used for rehabilitation for veterans, but no formal proposal has been forthcoming, he said.

One of the more promising proposals has been for use of Harder Hall as an addiction treatment center, Hoffman said. Those making the proposal were concerned about unexpected costs resulting from city inspections. The city discussed allowing the company to hire its own inspector with the city having the power to approve or disapprove the inspector.

But, he said, the city hasn't had any more communication with that company.

Other ideas for Harder Hall have been a religious retreat, a memory center for people with dementia and a transition center for released prisoners.

"There's just a wide variety of interest," Hoffman said. "Everybody has a vision."

jmeisel@highlandstoday.com

(863) 386-5834

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