City Terminates Lease with Facility
By Will Johnson
CROCKETT – After a turbulent tenure in Houston County, Houston Serenity Place – Crockett is out. The formal announcement was given on Monday evening, Oct. 2 during a scheduled meeting of the Crockett City Council.
In the Sept. 24 edition of The Messenger, it was reported a text message from Serenity Place owner Chris Brown stated, in part, the facility was “… given the option of dropping our license, reorganizing and re-applying (for a license) after submitting an approved improvement plan.”
A second text stated, “Let everyone know we will close in two weeks.”
During the Oct. 2 council meeting, Crockett City Administrator John Angerstein indicated the city had terminated its lease with Serenity Place at the end of September.
“I met with the city attorney and we reviewed our contracts with Serenity Place and due to the direction we saw this was moving, we thought it would be best to terminate our lease with Serenity Place,” he said. “They made it clear they were moving out of town.”
Angerstein said the city needed to have a clean separation from the juvenile residential treatment center “… so we can move forward and see what the next phase is for that campus.”
As he continued, the city administrator read a letter outlining three specific clauses in the lease that were violated by Serenity Place.
The first clause cited a lack of property insurance maintained by the operators of the facility.
“You have also defaulted in your obligations under the lease by abandoning or vacating a substantial portion of the premises. The lease does not require ten days’ notice of such a violation, and therefore, the City of Crockett exercises its option to terminate the lease by written notice and to sue for damages,” Angerstein read.
The final contract violation concerned the facility’s loss of license.
“Your license has been revoked by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Therefore, the leased premises may not be used as regional juvenile treatment facility and the City of Crockett notifies you that the lease is terminated,” the document stated.
The letter was prepared by City Attorney Bill Pemberton and was hand delivered to Brown who signed the letter as received.
Angerstein said after consultations with the city attorney, both thought it would be best to “… cleanly separate. He did agree – Mr. Brown – did agree to go ahead and as of today (Monday, Oct. 2) all of their items are gone and the gates have been locked.”
Following a brief discussion about inventory, a motion was made by Councilman Ernest Jackson and seconded by Councilman Darrell Jones to terminate the lease agreement. The motion passed unanimously.
Once the meeting concluded, Angerstein was asked to elaborate on the Serenity Place matter and the city administrator was questioned about why Serenity Place had their license revoked.
“I can’t comment on that. I do know, after verification from the state, there are two levels of licensing. There is a temporary license, which they were currently operating under. They had an application in for a permanent license. Initially, the state pulled the permanent license application and did not allow them to move forward on that process. Then, as of last week, they pulled their temporary license. That’s just for the local facility.”
Serenity Place has several other facilities in and around the Houston area.
The city administrator was also asked about the terms of the contract. The City of Crockett received approximately $12,500 in monthly lease payments, Angerstein confirmed.
“This was a lease to own contract. After five years they would assume the facility,” he said.
Prior to the lease termination, Angerstein indicated the city was receiving the monthly payments in a timely manner but added, “… up until this last month. First, it (the lease) was abated for a year so they didn’t start paying until May.”
Angerstein was further asked if the lease payments were factored into the recently approved Fiscal Year 2018 budget and he replied yes. When asked how the city hoped to recover the lost revenue (approximately $150,000), Angerstein said there had been interest expressed in the facility by other entities.
“There are a couple of others who are interested in the facility. Our hopes are that it will be replaced or that we can sell the facility. It is a huge campus and to the right person or the right company, it is worth millions. If you have no use for it, it will drain you. It’s imperative that we move quickly and find a replacement. Our hopes are if we do sell it and if not it will affect our contingency fund as well as some of the capital requests we approved,” he said.
When asked who the entities might be, the city administrator declined to provide any specifics.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.