By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre City Council's Finance Committee met with local engineer Jay Springer Monday night to discuss Springer's interest in leasing, then possibly purchasing the Heritage Center.
The fate of the historic building has been up in the air since the H. Earl Clack Foundation announced in May that it would cease managing the building on July 1.
The foundation has leased the building since 1996, when the city purchased the former post office and federal courthouse from the U.S. Postal Service. The center is home to the county's H. Earl Clack Museum. When a five-year lease expired in 2001, the foundation continued to manage the building under a tenancy-at-will agreement with the city. The city will take over management responsibilites of the center, effective Thursday.
It costs an estimated $5,000 to run the Heritage Center each month - money Finance Committee members say the city cannot afford. To help alleviate money concerns, the City Council voted June 21 to consider selling the Heritage Center to a private party. Springer, a longtime Havre resident, and his brothers Lowell and Dennis Springer are working with city officials to write a four-year lease for the Heritage Center, with an option to purchase the building at the end of the four-year period.
"The Heritage Center is a great place and a beautiful building. We don't want to change a thing," Jay Springer said at Monday's meeting. "We see it as a potential to make money. We think it's really useable space."
Springer also said he wants the Clack Foundation to continue managing the building for the next six months, with his monetary help.
"That grace period would give everyone a little breathing room," Springer said. "I'm not ready to make a good proposal right now. That six months would give me an opportunity to iron out details with the city. I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to make a decision right now."
The Heritage Center accounts and utilities would still be turned over to the city Thursday, but Springer said he would help with the expenses.
"The center could move on, business as usual," Springer said.
Springer said he hopes the grace period would allow the city to decide how it wants to move forward with plans to repair the building's roof.
"The roof of the building definitely needs to be fixed," Finance Committe Chair Tom Farnham said at Monday's meeting. "The last estimate for the roof was $92,000."
The city could save a large percentage of the repair cost if it's approved for a grant from the Montana Department of Transportation's Community Transportation Enhancement Program. CTEP funds transportation-related projects that are designed to "strengthen the cultural, aesthetic, and environmental aspects of Montana's intermodel transportation system." CTEP allows for the implementation of a variety of nontraditional projects like historic preservation.
Mayor Bob Rice said Monday he plans to release a bid for roof repairs to CTEP as soon as the city decides how it will move forward with the center.
"The roof repairs have got to be done," Rice said.
Springer said if the CTEP funds do not come through, he would be willing to pay for the repairs, if the roof costs would be taken off the final purchase price for the building, which has been estimated at $113,000.
"The roof repairs will ultimately affect our final proposal," Springer said. "But our proposal also affects how the repairs will be funded, so it's really a Catch-22."
Springer and his brothers are planning to tour the Heritage Center with foundation president Elaine Morse sometime in the next couple of weeks so they can assess what needs the building has. Springer is also planning to sit down with city attorney Jim Kaze to iron out details of a lease proposal.
"We don't want to rush into anything," Springer said. "We want to explore all our options and move forward on the right foot."
Springer isn't the only party interested in the Heritage Center. The Finance Committee will meet with Charlie Grant, spokesman for a second group that's interested in the possible purchase of the building, on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall. The City Council hopes to discuss the groups' proposals at its meeting next Tuesday.