Hilliard could reserve the right of first refusal to purchase the Columbus Metropolitan Library's 20,000-square-foot branch on 4.3 acres at 4772 Cemetery Road when it goes on the market, according to legislation introduced May 8 at Hilliard City Council.

The ordinance was moved to a second reading and public hearing May 22. However, several City Council members already have questioned the proposed ordinance that authorizes the right-of-first-offer agreement.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library intends to sell the Cemetery Road site it has occupied since 1996 when it is ready to move into a new 60,000-square-foot, two-story branch at the southeast corner of Davidson and Leap roads. The building once was intended to be a community center for the Hickory Chase luxury senior-citizen community that was scuttled when Baltimore-based Erickson Communities filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library acquired 6.8 acres from the new owners, Greenwich Investors Hickory Chase, but Hilliard paid the $6 million purchase price when the deal closed in December, said Tracy Bradford, Hilliard's law director.

Meanwhile, the library system paid Greenwich Investors Hickory Chase $800,000 for the former community center and will invest about $15.8 million to renovate it and convert it into a library, said Ben Zenitsky, a spokesman for Columbus Metropolitan Library.

"We are currently finalizing drawings and preparing to go to bid. We hope to begin renovating the space later in the summer and are shooting for a spring 2018 grand opening," he said.

Bradford said the city would not learn the sale price of the old branch until the offer is made, likely sometime in 2018.

"When (CML) is ready to sell, it will let (the city) know and that notice will include the sale price," Bradford said.

The city would have 30 days to consider the purchase offer when it is tendered, but it would not have the opportunity for a counter-offer, she said.

"The city must either accept or reject the offer," she said. "If the city rejects the initial offer, then (CML) can list the property (on the open market)."

However, the library system could not accept an offer from a third party or list the property for any amount that is not at least equal to 90 percent of the asking price it made to the city in its first offer, Bradford said.

If the property does not sell on the open market, the library system must offer the property to the city at 90 percent of the first offer, she said.

If the city still elects not to purchase it, the library system then may sell the property on the open market with no further legal obligation to offer it to the city again, Bradford said.

"The advantage to the city is that it guarantees certain rights to the city and we get the first bite of the apple if the city desires that this property is a good fit for redevelopment efforts in this area," she said.

However, City Council President Nathan Painter said he would prefer that the city have the ability to negotiate a purchase price when it is first offered.

"Why not ask for the right to negotiate or we are stuck with the offer?" Painter said.

Based on earlier conferences with the the library system's board of trustees, Bradford said, the offer "was the best (the city) could get."

Councilman Les Carrier questioned the proposal itself.

"Why are we involved at all?" he asked.

Bradford said city leaders desire to have a degree of control concerning the parcel along the Cemetery Road corridor.

While the tentative agreement does not require the library system to name an asking price until the time of the offer, city officials should have an idea of the amount.

In December, city officials rejected an offer to buy the property for $3.5 million.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo