By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The future of the Heritage Center is still up in the air, but the city of Havre hopes it's inching closer to finding a solution for the building.
Mayor Bob Rice and Havre City Council member Tom Farnham met Thursday with the Hill County commissioners, and members of the H. Earl Clack Foundation and H. Earl Clack Museum boards, representatives of the Havre Art Association, and other interested members of the community to discuss the fate of the historic building. The meeting was called after the City Council voted Monday to consider selling the Heritage Center to a private party.
The foundation is turning management of the downtown landmark, which houses the county's H. Earl Clack Museum, over to the city on July 1, saying it can no longer afford to be responsible for it. The city purchased the building from the U.S. Postal Service in 1996.
"I know the county's concern is what will happen to the museum if we sell to a private group," Farnham told the group. "I can assure you that the council will vote on who can best take care of the Heritage Center building."
Jay Springer, a local engineer who's voiced some interest in leasing or possibly purchasing the center, has said he plans to allow the museum to stay.
Museum board members said Thursday that simply being allowed to keep the museum at the center is not their only concern.
"Would we be expected to pay rent to the new owner or manager of the building?" museum board chairman Ron VandenBoom asked city officials. "We've been enjoying a rent-free status at the center and we'd be hard-pressed to meet any new rental demands."
Elaine Morse, president of the Clack Foundation, had concerns with rent issues as well. "What about the other nonprofits in the building who are not paying rent? What will happen to them?"
City officials say there's no easy answer until a deal is worked out with a new buyer.
"It's going to be up to whoever takes over," Farnham said. "I would think the other nonprofits would have to pay their fair share, but I don't know for certain. I can't speak for whoever takes control of the building."
In addition to Springer's interest in the center, Charles Grant told local government officials Thursday that a private group had spoken to him and would like to purchase the building. Grant said the interested buyers would like to remain anonymous, but he will be serving as the group's spokesman. Grant said he hopes to meet with the City Council's Finance Committee next week.
Meanwhile, the city is preparing to take control of the building on Thursday.
"My concern is what will happen on July 1," Rice said. "A sale isn't going to take place by then, so who's going to pick up the tab? The city. And we don't have the money."
Rice said he will meet with the building's tenants the first week of July to discuss their concerns. He said regardless of what happens with the Heritage Center, the tenants will have a 30-day notice if they need to move or vacate the building.
"This does not leave us in a very comfortable position," VandenBoom said, "not knowing if and when we might have to pack up our suitcases and leave."
"My hands are tied," Rice said. "If the money was there, we would love to help. But it's not."
The Finance Committee will meet with Jay Springer Monday night at 7 at City Hall to discuss a lease or purchase agreement for the Heritage Center.