By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The city will go forward with its plan to mothball the Heritage Center on Wednesday, at least until spring, Havre Mayor Bob Rice said Monday. A second round of bidding on the building closed at noon Monday with no viable offers, he said.
One bid was submitted, but Rice said the $5,000 offer was too low.
"I'm not going to accept," he said.
The Northcentral Montana Community Ventures Coalition, an anti-poverty group headquartered in Havre, also has expressed interest in the building.
The organization could not make a specific dollar offer by the deadline, coalition executive director Andrea Main said in a letter to the mayor. But she said the organization is still interested in the building.
"We're not in a position right now to assemble our board of directors to have a discussion," Main said today. "That doesn't mean we're not interested. We are still interested."
The city has owned the building 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.
The city received permission from the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration in September to sell the building, and it began to advertise it in newspapers across the state. No bids were submitted and the city opened bidding again in November.
The state said the city did not have to advertise the second rounds of bids, City Council member Tom Farnham said.
Rice said the earliest he will recommend the city reopen bidding will be in the spring.
The mayor received a letter of intent to bid from Northcentral Montana Community Ventures Coalition, which was awarded a $12 million grant last December by a foundation created by the family of railroad magnate James J. Hill. The coalition was formed to fight poverty in 11 counties in north-central Montana and is temporarily housed at the District IV Human Resources Development Council building.
Main said the organization is looking at a spot in the Atrium Mall and that the Heritage Center is another option, though one that she and the board of directors are excited about.
"There's such a big opportunity to do some community revitalization in downtown Havre," she said. "It's a beautiful building, a beautiful office space. We visualized some kind of business incubator, really marketing the building to provide professional office space. We even had tossed around the idea of having a restaurant come into the building. But that was just dreaming."
Main said the idea is still new to the organization, and more research needs to be done.
The coalition's board of directors will meet Dec. 14 in Great Falls, Main said, and the question of an office location will be addressed then.
The sole bid was submitted by Havre resident Tom Lambrecht, who said he and his wife, Jamie, want to make the Heritage Center "a premier corporate office and cultural space for the Hi-Line."
In August, Lambrecht and his wife made two proposals to the city. Both were aimed at keeping the H. Earl Clack Museum in the building. The first offer was to make the building a public-private joint venture contingent on getting a CTEP grant to fix the building's roof, as well as tax abatement for several years. Lambrecht offered to pay $5,000 up front, and then pay the 13 percent match for the grant.
Lambrecht's second proposal was to buy the building outright with an offer of $20,000, a price he lowered to $5,000 this week.
Lambrecht said he and his wife will continue to be interested in the building, but that would all be based on changing economics.
"At the time the original proposal was submitted there was a fairly substantial tenant base with established income. Those tenants have vacated," Lambrecht said. "There are required improvements that will have to be deferred to the construction season next year."
The mayor has already had the front locks on the building changed.
"We don't know how many keys are out there," Rice said.
The problem was that the boiler was being turned on when nobody was in the building. Also, he said at one point the wrong boiler was turned on. That boiler has little water in it, and Rice said the mistake could have meant a fire in the building.