By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Heritage Center could soon end up in the hands of a private group of developers. The Havre City Council voted Monday night to consider selling the historic building to a private party.
The council vote came in the wake of a decision by the H. Earl Clack Foundation in May to cease management of the Heritage Center as of July 1. After the foundation's announcement, local government officials held a meeting to discuss the building's future. The June 9 meeting was attended by several City Council members, Mayor Bob Rice, the Hill County Commission, and members of the Clack Foundation and Clack Museum board.
The center is home to the county's H. Earl Clack Museum and has played host to numerous cultural and community events in the last few years.
When the Clack Foundation ceases management of the Heritage Center on July 1, the city of Havre will assume full responsibility of the building.
"Come July 1, everything will be in our name," Rice said at Monday's meeting. "Bills, utility payments, everything. We'll have to start making the payments."
Rice said it would cost the city nearly $5,000 per month to manage the building.
City Council member Tom Farnham said the council's Finance Committee, which he chairs, has carefully reviewed the city's finances and the city simply does not have the money to take full responsibility for the building.
"If we could help (the foundation), we would have last year when the building was in dire straits," Farnham said. "We just don't have the money."
Rice said he's been in contact with a local company, Milkriver Engineering Inc., and the group is interested in leasing, then possibly purchasing the building. He said the engineering firm plans to keep the Heritage Center open and allow the county's H. Earl Clack Museum to stay.
"They want to lease the building first and maintain the status quo," Rice said.
Jay Springer, an engineer with Milkriver Engineering, said today his company plans to attract new businesses to take up residence at the center and keep the building open.
"We like the way it looks," he said. "We would love to see it stay."
Rice said one option tentatively discussed with Milkriver Engineering would be for the company to lease the building for four years, with an option to buy the building at the end of that time - an agreement similar to the five-year lease the city had with the Clack Foundation that expired in 2001.
Springer said a lease agreement is an option, but nothing is definite yet. "We've kicked around a few ideas," he said. "But what we really need to do is sit down with the city and figure out what works best for them, and go from there. There's a lot of stuff we still need to work out."
Working out a deal with Milkriver Engineering got a thumbs up from many council members.
"I would like to see us go in that direction," said Farnham,"to work with Milkriver Engineering on a lease."
Council member Terry Schend agreed. "I think it sounds like a good-faith offer. I'm excited about it."
But not all council members are in favor of selling the Heritage Center to a private company. Emily Mayer-Lossing said she wants the building to remain a public building.
"It's an asset for all of us," she said. "There's so much potential that could happen with the Heritage Center if people would just try."
Mayer-Lossing was the lone council member to vote no on the motion to sell the building to a private company.
"I am highly disappointed that we did not receive any paperwork on this prior to now," she said, concerning Milkriver Engineering's proposal to buy. "We have no documentation to go on. My heritage is not for sale at any price."
Rice and Farnham were quick to point out Monday's council vote to sell the Heritage Center is not binding.
"There's no guarantees yet," Farnham said. "Until a lease agreement is signed off on by both amenities, nothing is set in stone."
Springer agreed. "By no means is this a done deal," he said today.
The City Council would have to vote again to approve any lease or purchase agreement.
City Council members will meet with Hill County commissioners on Thursday at 2 p.m. to further discuss the possibility of selling the Heritage Center.