By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Bob Rice on Friday extended bidding on the Heritage Center to a period ending at noon today.
A new bid may come from the Northcentral Montana Community Ventures Coalition, an 11-county anti-poverty group headquartered in Havre. The coalition last year received a $12 million grant from the Northwest Area Foundation, an organization founded by the family of railroad magnate James J. Hill.
Andrea Main, executive director of coalition, had submitted a letter of intent to the city by its previous deadline last Monday but did not make a dollar offer.
Main said she is still interested in getting the building for the coalition. She said she made calls this morning to try to put a bid together by the noon deadline.
The city has owned the Heritage Center since 1996, when it bought the former post office and federal courthouse from the U.S. Postal Service with federal highway funds. It was leased by the Clack Foundation until July 1, when the foundation said it could not longer afford to operate the landmark.
The city also says it can't afford to keep the building open.
Havre received permission from the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration in September to sell the building, and began to advertise the building in newspapers across the state. No bids were submitted in a first round of bidding and the city opened bidding again in November.
Main said she probably could have been able to submit a dollar bid earlier but that Rice had told her at a meeting Nov. 16 that she only needed to submit a letter of intent.
She said she only learned from a telephone message last Monday morning that Rice expected a dollar offer by noon, short notice for gathering the coalition board of directors.
The mayor said he recalls asking for a monetary value on Nov. 16, when coalition board members and city officials met to tour the building and discuss a possible bid. He said he remembered that city public works director Dave Peterson said the same thing.
"It was my recollection that the letter of intent was to include some kind of monetary value," Peterson said.
City Council member Pam Hillery remembers it differently.
Hillery recalls the exchange this way: "Mayor Rice said, 'Send me a letter of intent."' She said someone from the coalition asked if there needed to be an offer in that letter and Rice said no.
"It got emphasized that that was not required," Hillery said.
Main said: "I specifically asked him if it needed to have a monetary value. He said no."
George Heavy Runner, co-chair of the coalition, did not have a distinct recollection, but said he thought that Rice had implied that he wanted a dollar offer in the letter, but that the coalition did not have the time necessary to meet with all the board members and get approval from the Northwest Area Foundation.
Main said today that Rice called her Friday to let her know she could submit a bid today. She said she received the call only after she talked to the Montana Department of Transportation about its expectations for the building's sale.
She said Rice told her MDT had called him later to say she had complained about how the city was handling the coalition's interest in purchasing the building.
Rice could not be reached for comment today.
"I don't really feel like it's fair," Main said today about the short time period the mayor gave the organization to put together a bid for the building.
"I just feel like I'm really being pressured here and there's no real reason for it," she said.
Heavy Runner said the coalition will continue to be interested in the building, even if it can't make an offer today.
"My only concern is having the building sit through the winter if there really are roofing problems," Main said last week.
Meanwhile, the building has been having boiler problems.
Bob Nault, owner of Nault Plumbing and Heating Inc., said today his company worked this weekend on a boiler in the building in order to keep it operational.
Rice said last week that someone had turned on the wrong boiler in the building, a mistake that could have caused a fire.