The Douglas County Board voted Tuesday to go ahead with its $2.75 million purchase of the Omaha Housing Authority’s downtown headquarters, despite board member Jim Cavanaugh’s vigorous denunciation of the purchase and its purpose.
Tuesday’s action was incremental and expected. The board had voted in late April to offer OHA $2.75 million for its building at 1805 Harney St. and adjacent parking lot. The housing authority had conditionally accepted the offer. It’s contingent on the OHA closing a $2.75 million deal to buy a new home next door — the historic original Omaha Public Library Building at 1823 Harney St.
The county wants the OHA property as part of a site for a potential juvenile justice center and new County Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office space, a parking garage and maybe a new juvenile detention center. The county is trying to assemble most of the block southwest of 18th and Harney Streets.
The Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission has declared its intent to issue $120 million in bonds to build a justice center and parking garage.
Cavanaugh blistered that idea and the OHA purchase in a 20-minute speech. He said buying the OHA property is “the first step toward spending $100 million, which will inevitably involve a property tax increase.
“This project does not address our most pressing needs,” Cavanaugh said. Those are understaffing and overcrowding at the Douglas County Jail, and a shortage of mental health facilities, he said. The Douglas County Youth Center is big enough for juvenile detention and is in a better location, off 42nd Street, than downtown, Cavanaugh said.
He said the county is paying too much for the OHA building. He noted that the housing authority bought it for $2.18 million in 2015. Cavanaugh made a motion to postpone a vote on signing the sales agreement with OHA. It failed for lack for a second.
Board members Mike Boyle, Clare Duda, Marc Kraft and Mary Ann Borgeson defended the purchase and the prospective project.
Duda, who like Boyle is on the Public Building Commission, said he isn’t committed to any specific buildings. He singled out the youth detention center as maybe not needed now. But he said it’s responsible to assemble land near the courthouse now because he said the courts have outgrown the courthouse.
Boyle said the purchase price for the OHA property reflected renovations the agency has made and is designed to make the housing authority whole and help the county assemble the land it needs.
The vote was 5-1. Boyle, Duda, Borgeson, Kraft and Chris Rodgers voted yes. Cavanaugh voted no. P.J. Morgan abstained because an executive from his real estate company is involved in the housing authority’s purchase of the library building.