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Two corners, two choices for Mitchell city hall’s future location

Rubble is removed from a pile that was formerly a set of adjoined buildings Wednesday morning near the corner of First Avenue and Rowley Street in downtown Mitchell. The city of Mitchell demolished the buildings to create a possible site for a new city hall. (Anna Jauhola/The Daily Republic)

The future site of a new, multimillion dollar city hall has been narrowed to two possible locations in downtown Mitchell, according to Mayor Ken Tracy.

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One of two adjacent, city-owned lots in the 100 block of West First Avenue will eventually be the site of a new city hall — a lot on the northeast corner of First Avenue and Rowley Street, or a lot on the northwest corner of First Avenue and Main Street, Tracy said.

On Wednesday, work was under way in that area, as city workers demolished a set of adjoined buildings at the westernmost site.

The other, easternmost site is the location of the former Longhorn Bar, which was torn down earlier this year. Whichever lot is not chosen will likely be converted into a parking lot, Tracy said, as will another nearby city-owned property, the Garden of Eden building at 214 W. First Ave.

The city, which recently sent out a formal request for qualifications on the city hall project, is in the process of scheduling interviews with firms interested in designing the building. Those interviews, Tracy said, could begin as soon as next week, and an architect should be selected shortly thereafter.

With an architect soon to be chosen, a decision on the location for the new city hall will need to be made soon, Tracy said.

“I think that would be something, certainly, that the architect would want to know before they move forward,” he said.

The existing City Hall, which is attached to the Corn Palace, will eventually be renovated to house tourism exhibits.

Tracy hopes construction on a new city hall can begin by next spring or summer.

“I don’t know if that’s overly optimistic,” he said.

If work begins next year on a new city hall, three of the city’s four major projects could be under construction at the same time.

Work began this fall on a $2.2 million renovation of the Mitchell Public Library and is expected to continue into next year. The first phase of a $7.175 million expansion of the Corn Palace could also begin next year. A $2.8 million expansion of the Mitchell Activities Center, which includes the addition of a second ice rink, is expected to be mostly completed by the end of the month.

The city set aside $2.6 million for a new city hall as part of $13.9 million in bonds it sold in December and January to fund the major projects, and set aside another $875,000 for the city hall project in the budget for next year. With some of the money already used to buy land, the city has about $3.2 million available for the city hall project.

“I’m not sure what all we can get,” Tracy said. “I think $3.2 million is an adequate amount to provide us with a city hall that will work for us and will look nice.”

The city also plans to demolish the Veterans of Foreign Wars building, at 105 N. Main St., directly north of the site of the old Longhorn Bar. The city recently bought the VFW property for $175,000 after the building was damaged during the demolition of the former Longhorn Bar, with which it shared a common wall.

Demolition of the VFW building will take place next year to give its current occupants time to relocate, Tracy said.

“Certainly, we’re not going to kick them out in the street,” he said.

With the city’s purchase of the VFW, the American Legion, at 107 N. Main St., is now the only privately owned building in the half-block area that includes the two possible city hall sites. While it might be desirable to have additional parking or green space in the area, Tracy said he is hesitant to recommend that the city buy the American Legion building because of the costs that would be involved, but also said it could be a topic of discussion at a future City Council meeting.

“There have to be some limits to what the city should expend on acquiring property and taking it off the tax rolls,” he said.