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City council ponders tearing down historic Longhorn building

Two answers are being prepared for the problem of the troubled old Longhorn Bar site.

The city will either buy two buildings at the site for $1 and tear them down, or determine the cost of repairing the buildings and assist the owner to do that.

The Mitchell City Council discussed the crumbling buildings at 101 N. Main St. during a special meeting at City Hall Tuesday night.

The council declared the building a public nuisance at its June 4 meeting. The old bar has been closed since November when part of a wall and the ceiling collapsed.

The council decided to have two resolutions prepared for its Monday meeting: One to buy and demolish the building, and a second to fix it up and then seek to recover the costs from Jason Bates, who owns it.

"I think tearing it down is the cheapest way to do," Public Works Director Tim McGannon said.

It would cost $75,000 to demolish it, McGannon said, which could drop to $50,000 if free landfill was provided by the city.

But he was asked to work with Bates to see if they could agree on the cost of repairing the building to offer the council an option. Bates said he has a contractor who estimated the foundation is secure and the building can be fixed for $56,000.

Councilman Marty Barington said that seemed too low for the scale of the project.

McGannon said he has been told by an engineer that to rebuild the south wall from the basement up would require a new foundation and footing and likely a repair of the east wall. All that would cost $175,000. The question is, which figure is more accurate?

The building is owned by Bates Rentals LLC, with Jason Bates owing an $85,000 mortgage to his father, Robert Bates. Jason Bates said he bought it from his father last year.

He said he could get $60,000 in refinancing from a bank if the building could be repaired and insured.

McGannon said he thinks tearing it down would take some time. He said it would likely be October or November before the process would be completed and the building demolished and removed from the site.

The council was divided on what was the best approach to take.

Councilman Phil Carlson said the city turned down an earlier offer from a property owner who wanted to sell his aging building to the city for $1.

"I'm worried about the precedent," Carlson said.

"This could drag on forever," said Councilman Travis Carpenter. "I'm a short-timer. I'm talking about taking care of our Main Street. It's been an eyesore for long enough already."

He leaves the council on July 2.

"We can have that down and have a park there in a year," Carpenter said.

He said if government moves at a slow pace -- "like it's worked the six years I've sat in this chair" -- nothing will get accomplished.

Councilman Mel Olson said he was "getting splinters because I'm on the fence" on the issue.

Olson said he could see the wisdom of removing it and making room for a parking lot, but also was sensitive to the fact of losing another tax-paying building from downtown.

"It's a bad deal whatever way you go," he said.

Bates said he was looking for a solution. The building's collapse days after he bought it was "really bad luck on my part," he said, and he just wants a solution.

Another option that was discussed was for Mitchell Main Street & Beyond to help fund the repair.

It has a loan program that provides $400 per foot of frontage of buildings for upgrades. But the council was torn on whether it should tap into that.

City Attorney Randy Stiles said he felt since the city has partially funded the program, it should have the ability to tap into the fund.

Mitchell Main Street & Beyond Executive Director Molly Goldsmith then rose and went to the podium to object to using the funds for this problem.

The account has $284,000, Goldsmith said, with about $80,000 now out on loan.

"I don't think we even want to go there," Olson said. "That's opening a big box of dirt over clear water."

Olson said once the city dips into the MM&B money to restore this building, other building owners may seek to tap into the fund for repairs.

That idea was then dropped, the council decided to hear the dual options next week and choose one of them.

Mayor Lou Sebert, Council President Jeff Smith and Councilman Greg McCurry were absent. Barington, the council vice president, presided.