April 2, 2015 at 3:08 p.m.

Purchase of county building in Center City subject of special meeting

Purchase of county  building in Center City subject of special meeting
Purchase of county building in Center City subject of special meeting

Four Center City Council members met with County Administrator Bruce Messelt Monday night this week to see if a deal can be worked out to create a new Center City Hall and public works garage at the Heartland Express transit facility the county is vacating,  next to Bayview Senior Apartments.

The city council didn’t take an official vote on buying the site, with member Donna Higgins absent.

In discussions, though,  it appeared the mayor and at least one council member supports the concept and one was not favorable to it.  
Council member Lloyd Vetter was on the fence.  He wasn’t crazy about the location,  but he said acquiring the county site would “get us through  for awhile” (addressing space needs),  but added that it would also increase city expenditures.

The hour-long discussion ended with a consensus for Messelt to continue to craft an acquisition package.  The acquisition will also be on the council agenda April 7.

At this time the county is asking $125,000 for the site.  

Council member Mark Wolcott said he believes in the “look before you leap” philosophy and wants all the real estate paperwork in order before the city commits.  There are issues in this old part of the city with accuracy of lot lines and the site is being surveyed at county expense.  There may or may not have been a street vacated within the site-- but council assured Messelt the city has no problem taking appropriate steps clearing up anything hindering a clean title.  At this time it’s thought there are two city lots involved.

Wolcott also said Center City cooperated with the county to facilitate the development of the business park and sheriff communications center,  and in return he suggested the county would stretch-out payments for as long as possible,  to lessen the city budget impact, ideally “...10 years at zero interest,” he concluded.

Messelt said he doesn’t think terms will be contentious, and he’ll bring back the council’s wishes to the county commissioners. The county prefers to see the site re-used and if it remains a public building, all the better. Messelt said there won’t be a for sale sign going up if the city can’t close the deal.  It will remain in the county’s ownership.

Messelt explained the $125,000 is what the County Board has set as a sale price because the bus building would continue to be used  even after Heartland transit operations shift to North Branch.  (The county, in partnership with Isanti and the state, is buying the old Lakes Region EMS facility in the North Branch Industrial Park.)

The county Capital Improvement Plan has $100,000 earmarked for addressing near-term cold storage needs. If the Heartland sale to the city falls through at $125,000 the county will simply not spend the CIP funding and keep the site, said Messelt.

The relocation of Heartland operations is expected to be completed on or around July 1.

Firefighters have a stake in this concept and three of the fire personnel attended Monday’s special meeting.  Moving city offices would allow the Center City fire department to takeover the old public works truck bays and two small city hall offices. The fire hall and the city operations are attached right now.

Firefighters told council this addresses space needs for the foreseeable future and would save citizens the expense of relocating the fire hall-- if there’s even a site available.

Seated in the audience, former Mayor Jill Behnke noted that there are good reasons to continue to look into buying the county facility, freeing up space for fire operations and improving staff working conditions.  Council concurred there is basically nowhere in Center City where a new fire hall could be constructed, and any new project would be much more costly than this plan.

The Heartland building is not in perfect shape, however. Council pointed out there’s some roofing repairs pending and a handicap access needs to be installed.

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