A town council has approved spending tens of thousands of pounds on work which could lead to it making a bid to buy the Haverhill Corn Exchange.
The neglected Grade II listed property in Withersfield Road is on the market for £200,000 and Haverhill Town Council is interested in bringing it back into use.
It funded a full structural survey on the building in 2015 and a first-stage feasibility study earlier this year, but now another party has made a bid to buy it, leaving the council with little time to play its hand.
Town clerk Colin Pool said the existing bid had been made by a property developer who was interested in turning it into service offices and a meeting room.
On Monday councillors voted in favour of informing St Edmundsbury Borough Council of their intention to bid for the Corn Exchange under the Community Right to Bid scheme.
Their aim would be to create a multi-use venue modelled on Stowmarket’s versatile John Peel Centre.
They also approved spending up to £43,000 on the services, investigations and project consultancy considered necessary for pre-purchase due diligence at which point refurbishment and ongoing revenue costs would be established.
A briefing paper for this week’s meeting, prepared by Mr Poole, said it would be ‘disingenuous’ to give the impression that refurbishing the historic building could be done on the cheap.
It said: “If this project is going to be a lasting community asset that inspires suitable public admiration, there are no corners to be cut.”
The report also warned that re-selling the Corn Exchange would likely prove tricky in the future.
It said: “The evidence over the years during which the building has stood empty is that the range of uses of the building are limited and serious prospective purchasers few and far between.
“If the Council buys the building, it is therefore unlikely to be able to unburden itself again very easily, in the meantime incurring significant costs.”
The town council chose this week to trigger an extended moratorium, preventing the sale of the Corn Exchange before September 15, to give it time to work out a business plan and decide the value of its bid.
In his report for Monday’s meeting, Mr Poole said: “The method by which the vendor judges who to sell the property to is not set in the legislation. There is no compulsory element in selling the property to the instigator of a right to bid.
“It follows logically that the Council should not commit itself to spending £43,300 of taxpayer funds on the due diligence process if there is any intention to do anything than bid strongly for the purchase.”
A borough council spokesman said providing notice of its intention to bid would not obligate the town council to submit a bid to the seller.