CLERMONT, FL-South Lake Hospital’s directors are looking for divine guidance in a real estate dilemma that will affect the growth and finances of this Lake County community, 25 miles west of Downtown Orlando. They need to resolve the problem in January.

The dilemma: Sell a vacant hospital building to a church group for three times less than the appraised value or sell the structure to a commercial real estate firm for more money and a chance to place the property on the city’s active tax rolls. Religious organizations don’t pay property taxes.

The hospital’s board is reviewing an offer of $500,000 or $8.33 per sf from United Methodist Church of Clermont for the vacant, 60,000-sf Eighth Street building. The amount is under the $1.7 million appraisal ($28.33 per sf). The church and the South Lake Community Foundation would use the property to house 50 non-profit social service groups.

The board is also considering an undisclosed bid from Highland Real Estate and Highland Development of Clermont. Principals Dale and Daryl Ladd, however, say they will only do the deal if the board rejects the church’s offer.

Downtown merchants are divided on which group should be allowed to purchase the former 68-bed, 30-year-old structure, just off Downtown. They want the city to gain additional revenue from the property taxes the building would generate if sold to a non-religious buyer, but the retailers also see the benefit of having a community-oriented facility Downtown.

Real estate consultants suggest the dilemma could be resolved by having the hospital board sell the building to a private group which would then retrofit the structure to house both office and non-profit tenants such as the South Lake Community Foundation.

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