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State will buy 2 mansion-area lots, despite lawsuit

Gov. Rick Scott and a unanimous Cabinet voted Tuesday to spend $580,000 for two lots adjacent to The Grove, a historic site near the Governor's Mansion that was once the home of territorial Governor Richard Keith Call.

But this is no ordinary real estate transaction. One of the lots is also home to the law office of Steven Andrews, who sued Scott during the 2010 governor's race and once issued a subpoena on candidate Scott just before he held a press conference.

The state has had the right of first refusal on the two lots since 1986. Anticipating the vote, Andrews filed a lawsuit last week in state court in which he said he agreed to buy one of the lots last fall, and that then-Secretary of State Kurt Browning expressed no interest in the state acquiring it last December. "You have to question what the motivation is," Andrews told The Florida Current

Scott said there's "no correlation" between Andrews' past criticism of him and Tuesday's decision. Rather, he said, obtaining the lots will address a serious parking problem around the mansion and honor the legacy of former Gov. LeRoy Collins and his wife, Mary Call Collins, who lived in the Grove in their later years.   

"He (Collins) and his wife Mary kept that property up, and they made sure that the state owned it. I think it's important for the history of the state, and for Tallahassee, to continue to improve that piece of property," Scott said after the 4-0 vote at a Cabinet meeting. "I think having access to Monroe (Street) will be a real benefit." State officials envision a day when the stately mansion is visible to passing motorists on Monroe Street, the major north-south route through downtown Tallahassee.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner told reporters the state is interested in acquiring even more property in the area, including lots occupied by a tire repair store and a pawn shop. Detzner says the state's long-term goal is to make the Grove an interactive visitors' center celebrating the state's history. The budget awaiting Scott's approval has $2.5 million for "The Grove -- purchase of adjacent properties and development.

-- Steve Bousquet