By Krystal Spring
The Heritage Center is under new management today. The city of Havre has now taken over full responsibility of the historic building from the H. Earl Clack Foundation.
"The building will be in our name," City Council member Tom Farnham said at a meeting of the council's Finance Committee regarding the Heritage Center Wednesday night. "We'll be taking over management responsibilities."
The Clack Foundation had leased the building since 1996, when the city purchased the former post office and federal courthouse from the U.S. Postal Service. 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 two parties had been attempting to negotiate a new lease when the foundation announced in May that it planned to relinquish management responsibility of the building, effective today.
The City Council voted June 21 to consider selling the historic building to a private party. Finance Committee members met with Havre engineer Jay Springer on Monday to discuss his interest in purchasing the Heritage Center. Springer is proposing to allow the Clack Foundation to continue to manage the building with his financial help for the next six months. At the end of that "grace period," Springer said, he would enter into a four-year lease with the city, with an option to buy the building at the end of the fourth year. Springer has said he will "bend over backwards" to keep the Clack Museum in the center.
Wednesday night the Finance Committee met with Charlie Grant, who said he represents a private group interested in buying the historic building. Grant said his group, which prefers to remain anonymous, would like to purchase the building for $1. He also asked committee members to consider a proposal for a four-year property tax exemption on the building.
"You will receive $1 for the Heritage Center," Grant told Finance Committee members. "Every penny we save in taxes will be put into restoring the building."
Grant said allowing his group to purchase the building would be in the best interest of the city.
"I'm making you an offer. We would like to take over the building in its entirety," Grant said. "You won't have to pay for anything. You will not be responsible for anything."
Grant said the private group plans to spend its time and resources fixing up the historic building, so more businesses would be attracted to setting up office space in the center.
"They want to put money into restoring this building, to get it up and going," Grant said. "After they fix it up, it can be used for office space. They plan to fully rent it out."
Finance Committee member Terry Schend said he had reservations about dealing with an anonymous group.
"I have some skepticism," Schend said. "We have no real evidence that this group has the financial capabilities to do what they're proposing."
Grant told Schend the committee has nothing to worry about. "I assure you that they have the financial stability to take care of the building," he said.
Grant said he is unsure what his group plans to do with the center's current tenants, including the H. Earl Clack Museum.
"All I know is they want to make a profit, derived by renting space," Grant said.
After Grant's proposal, finance committee members heard from another possible buyer. Jamie Lambrecht said she is interested in purchasing the center as well.
"I take exception to (Grant's proposal)," Lambrecht said. "I think that's a hideous proposal. I can assure you that my offer would be for a much more substantial amount than $1."
Lambrecht is the third private party who's shown an interest in purchasing the center.
Springer, who was also attended Wednesday's meeting, said he's always had an interest in the Heritage Center, but doesn't want to be in the middle of a high-priced "bidding war" over the downtown landmark.
"I don't know that I want to become part of the bidding process," Springer said.
"Anyone at large can make an offer on this building," Finance Committee member Rick Pierson said. "It's up to the Finance Committee and the City Council to vote in the best interest of the city of Havre, the community and the building."