Is it worth putting $450,000 to $500,000 to restore a 110-year-old building in downtown Estherville?
That was the essence of discussion held during a public hearing at the Estherville City Council meeting on Monday.
Council was considering a proposal to enter into a loan agreement in a principal amount not to exceed $400,000 for the purpose of making an economic grant to the Estherville Industrial Development Corporation for the restoration of the former J.C. Penney's/Sievert's building on 12 S. Sixth St.
The EIDC acquired the building earlier this year and council was planning to use money from the local option sales tax proceeds ($50,000 per year for 10 years) to pay for the loan.
A petition submitted to city officials prior to Monday's council meeting requests the issue to use city funds be put before the voters in a referendum. It also prevented council from taking immediate action.
During the public hearing, Estherville Drug owner Alan Robinson gathered the signatures for the petition.
"This is basically a $400,000 tax, an expenditure, and there's not a guarantee that the cap will be at $00,000," he said. "I spent nearly that much nearly 30 years ago and a dollar doesn't go as far today. I feel the public should be able to vote on this."
Larry Loeschen, a former owner of the building, said he was in favor of saving the building but is concerned about the amount of money the city is committing to the project.
"I'm not against the building, but it has to make sense too," he said. "I want to know more about the plans for it. I know I don't have enough information."
EIDC president Lyle Hevern said they are leading the effort to rescue the building.
He recapped the reasoning for taking up the project.
"The Iowa Lakes Corridor is focusing on second-floor space in downtown area," he said. "When the Sixth Street building came up, the focus turned to saving an architecturally significant -not historical-building."
Hevern said the plans are to stabilize the walls and seal the building against weather. The front will be tuck-pointed and be made to look as close to original as possible.
Hevern said there are some potential entrepreneurs willing to locate in a space like that.
A committee has been established with representation from the EIDC, city and Emmet County. That committee is reviewing bids for roof replacement and getting the building weather tight.
According to Estherville City Administrator Penny Clayton, the council has four options.
1. Council can call for a referendum to be put before the voters. The earliest that can be done is March 2014.
2. Council to enter into a different form of loan agreement that's not payable from debt service.
3. Council can grant the source of money from another city fund.
4. Council can do nothing.
Councilman Larry Anderson observed city officials were criticized for not doing anything about the former Grand Theatre and Elks buildings and now they're criticized for trying to do something with this building.
If council does nothing, eventually the building may have to be torn down at an estimated cost of $200,000. Installing a parking lot in the space may cost an additional $100,000.
Councilman Gene Haukoos said council would appreciate hearing from residents and get their opinion on whether it's worth the effort to restore the building.
He pointed to other projects-the library, the hospital, the Regional Wellness Center-that the community supported. If this is a project the public agrees with, he said the local money and support will be there. If it's not the right project, then the city shouldn't spend the money.