City Hall project likely shelved until 2020
The vision for Mitchell's Main Street has changed drastically in three years, and some city officials are content to wait before adding another major project to the list.
In the summer of 2014, Mitchell officials were cruising along the track toward building a new city hall on the corner of First Avenue and Main Street in the historic downtown district, replacing what's now an 80-year-old building serving as the home for city business.
Those plans have since been shelved, with an $8 million indoor aquatic center project replacing it, and a park honoring veterans sitting at the corner of First and Main.
Three years after voting to delay the new city hall, which was the first domino to fall in the slate of projects on North Main Street, Councilman Jeff Smith said he'd want to incorporate citizens before moving forward with another major project.
"We will always have large projects in Mitchell, which is not a bad thing, but we just need to keep addressing and we need to figure out what the majority of the community wants," Smith said. "And then that's the project that we tackle next."
But any addition to City Hall will likely have to wait.
Even after the council shifted course at a work session in 2015 to consider options to remain in the existing City Hall, the project is years from reality.
City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said "the city does not have the ability to finance another project" until some of its existing bonds are paid off.
"I would anticipate that we would have a subcommittee start working on it in the spring, but nothing could be constructed prior to 2020," Ellwein said in an email this week.
With 2020 serving as the earliest year the city would likely proceed with a project to expand or renovate the existing City Hall, and also considering the multitude of other major projects in town, City Council President Steve Rice said, "I am not sure it will get much traction for the 2019 budget." But "time will tell," Rice said.
Rice, who took over as council president this year, also said he hasn't given much thought to City Hall lately.
"I don't see anything urgent unless we have some mechanical failure, etc., with the building," Rice said in an email to The Daily Republic this week.
Despite the full slate of plans ahead of the city, Smith acknowledged the need to address the aging City Hall building hasn't dissipated.
"At some point, we'll need to circle back around and come to some resolution with it," Smith said.
The City Council may be leaning toward a renovation of its current space, but options for City Hall are plentiful.
At a City Council work session in January, a renovation and expansion of the current structure was mentioned — as well as its potential price tag of $5 million to $7 million.
A more creative approach has also been considered, although both Smith and Mitchell Mayor Jerry Toomey were uncertain of its viability.
Al Jacklin, who's long been affiliated with the Mitchell Area Community Theatre (ACT), told The Daily Republic in September that he floated the idea of allowing the city to take over the ACT building across the street from City Hall to use for municipal business. If it followed Jacklin's plan, the city would reimburse the ACT for making improvements at a rate of $500,000, which could then be turned over to the Mitchell School District for the privilege of using its new $15 million performing arts center.
But Toomey was unsure it would be the right move for the city.
"I personally have no idea what the city could use the building for at this time, and it would be premature for me to give it any thought unless there is an agreement made between the Pepsi Theatre and the school district coming to a mutual joint-use agreement on the fine arts building," Toomey said in an email to The Daily Republic in October.
Jacklin said the ACT was not able to come to a resolution with the district.
Smith also said he's heard rumblings about the ACT idea, but he wasn't sure a theater would be suited for a municipal building.
Whatever the final plan may be, Smith is aware that discussions about an improved City Hall are in the near future. Like other city officials, he pointed to 2019 or 2020 to get talks rolling on the project.
"The need has not gone away," Smith said. "But, you know, there were just some things that kind of took precedent, and we kind of shifted gears a little bit and went other directions."