By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The fate of the Heritage Center, uncertain for months, may soon be decided. Havre Mayor Bob Rice met recently with officials from the Federal Highway Administration and the Montana Department of Transportation in Helena to discuss the possibility of selling the historic building the city purchased with federal highway funds.
The city requested the meeting to see if it would have to pay back the $150,000 in Community Transportation Enhancement Program funds used to purchase and renovate the building, if it sells it to a private party.
Rice said he didn't receive a definitive answer to the city's CTEP questions at the Aug. 25 meeting. He plans to submit a written proposal to MDT and the Federal Highway Administration this week outlining the city's plans to sell the building, so he can have a final answer for the City Council at its meeting Sept. 7.
"I'm working on the proposal right now," Rice said Monday. "It basically describes the city's plans to dispose of the building. MDT should give us an answer this week."
Phone calls to MDT and FHA were not returned Monday or this morning.
The city took over management of the Heritage Center on July 1, after the H. Earl Clack Foundation - which had leased the building since 1996 - relinquished management of the building, citing financial concerns. The city purchased the former post office and federal courthouse in 1996 from the U.S. Postal Service, with $89,600 in CTEP funds. The building houses the county's H. Earl Clack Museum and some business offices. The City Council voted June 21 to consider selling the building to a private purchaser.
For the past two months the council's Finance Committee has been accepting and reviewing bids from private entities to buy the downtown landmark. But plans to sell the building were put on hold when concerns with CTEP arose.
Finance Committee chair Tom Farnham said Monday it looks like MDT will respond favorably to the city's plans to sell the building, and the council can proceed. If the building is sold, any money the city receives for the sale will have to go back into the city's CTEP fund, he added.
The Finance Committee on Aug. 9 received final written proposals from two local entities interested in purchasing the building.
Tom and Jamie Lambrecht presented two options for the building. The first outlined a plan for a public-private partnership for the center. The Lambrechts would pay the city $5,000 for the building, plus an additional payment equal to a 13 percent match for CTEP funds they would use to complete the planned roof project. Under that option, the Heritage Center would continue to house the H. Earl Clack Museum on a "cost-basis" for five years. Tom Lambrecht estimated the museum would be required to pay an estimated $1,200 in rent per month. The Lambrechts' first option also requires a five-year graduated tax abatement on the building.
In the second alternative, the Lambrechts offered the city a $20,000 cash purchase for the building, relieving the city of "any and all obligations associated with the building."
Jim Treperinas, the second interested buyer, said he would pay the city $1 for the center, freeing the city of all its responsibilites to the building. Treperinas said he would make sure the necessary roof repairs and other building improvements are completed so the building's office space would be more attractive to prospective renters.
Farnham said the council will vote on which of the two proposals to accept at the City Council meeting Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. at City Hall.
City Council member Emily Mayer Lossing has urged fellow council members to place a question about the Heritage Center on the municipal election ballot in November 2005, leaving the fate of the historic building to voters. Mayer Lossing proposed that city residents pay a flat fee, $24, to support the building financially, keeping it in the hands of the public.