Mayor says big projects may be done in three yearsCity council voted on Corn Palace, ice sheet, new city hall and library expansion.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The four major city projects that the Mitchell City Council moved ahead Monday night could be completed within years.
That’s the view of Mayor Ken Tracy, who said the City Council appears determined to get them accomplished, and he shares that desire.
The council voted to spend $13.9 million, including $6.5 million on the Corn Palace, $2.6 million to build a new City Hall downtown, $2.5 million for a second sheet of ice at the Mitchell Activities Center and $2.3 million for an upgrade and expansion of the Mitchell Public Library.
“I think there is a strong desire to get all these projects going and under way,” Tracy said Tuesday morning. “We took on a big load last night as far as the proposals that were made to us.”
The details on what will be built — and in the case of City Hall, where — are still to be completed.
The city is also figuring out how it will pay for the four major projects. Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson has been tasked with finding an answer for that.
The city has more than $2.3 million in a fund for such projects, and is hopeful a business improvement district (BID) will be approved by local hotel and motel owners. A BID is basically a self-imposed tax.
That is estimated to generate up to $350,000 annually, which could be used to help pay for the second sheet of ice as well as, in the future, a Recreation Center expansion and a new, larger indoor pool.
“We’ll have to work through that,” Tracy said. “We don’t want to put a permanent BID in.”
The city will rely on bonded debt to pay for many of the civic improvements, but it also hopes for donations and grant dollars, Tracy said.
“As we kind of hashed over last night, there is some hope and thought there might be some private money that can be contributed to these projects,” he said.
The Mitchell Hockey and Skating Association pledged to raise $500,000 for the Mitchell Activities Center expansion. That money would be used to help pay off the city’s debt, since it will invest $2.5 million into that effort.
The mayor said the $13.9 million total that was reached Monday night should be close to what is actually spent to complete the projects.
“I think all of them may be tweaked a little bit as we start to get estimates and bids on the projects,” Tracy said. “They may come in higher or lower than what we have. I think we’re at the proximity of the expected costs, but they’re certainly not set in stone.”
He does want to see work commence as soon as possible. Tracy said he hopes that the second sheet of ice is in place as soon as the winter of 2013-14.
The other projects will start as soon as requests for proposals are issued, architects hired and final plans are in place, he said. However, one of the projects may still be up in the air.
Tracy, in a 15-minute speech at the opening of Monday night’s budget hearing, offered support for the city relocating offices to the Mitchell Technical Institute north campus.
“It would appear to me the direction of the council is to build a new facility in the downtown area,” he said. “I guess I can’t and won’t rule out MTI until we’ve sited a location.”
The council voted unanimously to build a new City Hall downtown, which Tracy said means either on Main Street or on a block either side of Main. No vacant lots have been identified as potential locations, he said.
“The ones we are looking at, some demolition will be required,” Tracy said. “The one reservation I have is the amount allocated is a significant amount less than proposed by Puetz Corporation by the rendering they presented to us.”
The council voted to spend $2.6 million to buy land, remove existing buildings and erect a new City Hall. In a report to the council Aug. 6, Puetz officials estimated spending $3.4 million on the building, with the cost of the land and removal of existing structures bringing the total close to $4 million.
Councilman Dan Allen said Monday night that he has built buildings in his years as a businessman, and said he is confident a new City Hall could be put up for $2.6 million. The council agreed with him and voted unanimously to move ahead on that. Tracy said more thought may be needed.
“The City Hall we’re going to build is going to have to last the city for 50 to 100 years. Who knows?” he said. “We’re going to have to have some room for growth.
“I don’t want it to be just a box. I think it needs to be something that is attractive. Should it be extravagant? Absolutely not.”
Councilman Greg McCurry has twice said he feels the city could boost downtown with a new, impressive City Hall. McCurry, a member of the City Hall Relocation Committee, which Tracy chairs, said he feels the new Longfellow Elementary School is a vivid example of how a well-designed new structure can positively impact an area.
McCurry proposed a location near the Public Safety building that would create a city campus in the core area. But the city cannot reach a deal with one landowner in that area, he said.
The “Next Generation Corn Palace” received the most money Monday night, but it’s a long ways from the more than $35 million that was sought at the start of the year to expand and renovate the Palace.
Corn Palace Committee Chairman Doug Dailey said he feels the council has shown support for the iconic building. It came after a lengthy discussion and debate among the council.
Tracy said the plan now is to invest $732,000 on maintenance items that will not significantly alter the appearance of the Corn Palace.
That includes $92,500 to buy, ship and set up exhibits from the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, including an exhibit on the history of corn.
The Corn Palace also plans to spend $265,000 for an improved heating and air conditioning system, $250,000 for a renovation of the large dome atop the building and about $100,000 for improved interior and exterior lighting.
A gym located above City Hall next to the Corn Palace would be lost if an expanded Corn Palace uses that space.
The council set aside more than $2 million of the $6.5 million for a new auxiliary gym that would be attached to the Corn Palace.
Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said teams would welcome a floor where they could practice and hold shoot-arounds. The current second-floor gym is not full-sized, he said.
Tracy said the rest of the money can be used for many projects.
“There’s going to be an additional $3 million for improvements,” he said.
That could include improved and larger mosaics and murals, an enhanced lobby area, an elevator to the second floor, and efforts to renovate space behind the soft seats for exhibits.
Additional Americans with Disabilities Act seating is also planned on the second floor. It will be a “huge improvement” for concert-goers and people at games and other events, since their view has been blocked by people standing up, Schilling said.
Tracy said during the meeting, and reiterated it Tuesday, that while he supports improving the Corn Palace, he’s not sure what will come of such an investment.
“The only reservations I had, I have questioned in the past where any changes to the Corn Palace will bring more tourists to the Corn Palace,” Tracy said. “I’m not opposed to spending money for making improvements to the Corn Palace, but I think the value of the investment has to be weighed.”
The vacated City Hall could house exhibit space, a museum, a video theater and the gift shop, he said. Some of that work could begin even before city offices are moved from the building.
Schilling said he’s glad to see the city invest in the building.
“We’re making progress as we’re going forward here,” he said.
While the city is setting aside $2.6 million to buy land, demolish any structures on the site and then build a new City Hall, it budgeted almost equal that amount — $2.3 million — for a library expansion and renovation.
“That’s where I kind of have some questions and reservations,” Tracy said.
He said he has been told there would be additions on two sides of the building to create more space to hold meetings and to house new technology.
Library Director Jackie Hess said the extensions would be placed on the east and west side of the nearly 40-year-old library building.
Ground could be broken on the additions, which would total 5,200 square feet, by next spring, she said. A consultant said the entire project could be completed within nine months.
It would include a new circulation desk, expanded storage area, more room for children’s and teen programming and new seating areas, according to Hess.
She said building a new library was never part of the plan.
“That was the directive we were given, was to renovate the existing facility,” Hess said. “I’m very excited about this.”
There were originally five proposed major projects on the agenda Monday night. But Parks and Recreation Director Dusty Rodiek asked to have the Recreation Center project removed from consideration, and the council quickly agreed.
“There’s more work to be done, more preliminary work to be done on that,” Tracy said. “That one is going to take a little more time before we move forward on that.”
But the mayor said as other projects are paid off and the city has the financial ability to do more projects, the Rec Center will be upgraded or a new, larger one built. A partnership with private investors is a possible goal, Rodiek and Tracy both said.
“I would hope we could kind of put everything together,” Tracy said. “Where we have landed, I am comfortable with it. For the most part, I think we have gone forth on some good projects.”