By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A meeting of the Havre City Council's Finance Committee Monday night to review the final written purchase proposals for the Heritage Center ended with more questions than answers.
One of those is whether the city will have to pay back all of the $150,000 it used to purchase and renovate the building if it sells it to a private party.
Craig Erickson of Bear Paw Development Corp. said that now appears to be the case. However, he doesn't have a final answer from state and federal officials.
On June 21 the council voted to sell the Heritage Center to a private entity after the H. Earl Clack Foundation said it could no longer afford to operate the city-owned building. But those plans are on hold until the city receives the go-ahead from the Montana Department of Transportation. MDT provided the city with $89,600 from the state's Community Transportation Enhancement Program to purchase the center in 1996. Other CTEP money has been used to renovate the historic structure.
"At this point it looks like any federal aid funds used in the building would have to be reimbursed" if the building were sold, Erickson said Monday.
"I hope this interpretation is incorrect," he said. "If it's not, then this is really a policy that discourages historic preservation."
Officials at MDT and the Federal Highway Administration were unavailable for comment this morning.
Erickson said Havre Mayor Bob Rice will soon travel to Helena to discuss the city's CTEP concerns with the Montana Highway Commission. Rice could not be reached for comment this morning.
Erickson also raised another question about CTEP funding for the building. He'd been told earlier that a private owner could apply for CTEP money to fix the Heritage Center's roof as a historic preservation project. He said Monday officials are not sure that's possible.
Despite concerns with CTEP, the Finance Committee on Monday reviewed the two final proposals it received from private entities to purchase the Heritage Center.
Tom and Jamie Lambrecht presented two options. 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."
The Lambrechts said that with both options their goal for the building is the same - to develop the center into a "premier professional office complex and cultural center for the Hi-Line."
Jim Treperinas turned in a final written proposal Monday, offering the city $1 for the building and freeing the city of responsibilities to the center. 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.
Jay Springer, who was the first person to show interest in purchasing the building, did not turn in a final proposal, nor was he present at Monday's meeting. Springer could not be reached for comment this morning.
Lou Lucke, a member of the Clack museum board, told committee members Monday that the board is "actively seeking a new location" for the county's museum. Lucke said the board is considering nearly 20 possible sites, including Montana State University-Northern and the Atrium. The museum board voted Monday to pay the city $1,200 in rent for September.
The Finance Committee also discussed a request by City Council member and Clack museum manager Emily Mayer Lossing to place a question about the Heritage Center on the ballot, leaving the fate of the historic building to voters. Mayer Lossing said she believes voters would agree to pay a small increase in taxes - an estimated $24 per year - to support the building financially, keeping the cultural center in the hands of the public.
If the city wants to put the question on the ballot, it must act quickly. Hill County Clerk and Recorder Diane Mellem said this morning the deadline for initiatives to be placed on the general election ballot for this November is Aug. 19.
Finance Committee member Pam Hillery said Monday she thinks it's important for the city to weigh all of its options before unloading the building into the hands of a private entity.
"I would rather put a roof on the building and shut it down than sell the building in haste," she said. "I feel like we're considering two proposals that don't really value the monetary value of this building."
Finance Committee chair Tom Farnham said the city is not financially capable of continuing to support the center, and selling the building is the best option.
"We simply don't have the money," he said. "If we had extra funds available to us we would have given them to the Clack Foundation last year when they were in dire straits."
The city is paying an estimated $4,000 to maintain the building each month, while only bringing in $3,071 in revenue a month.
The Finance Committee voted to forward the two proposals to the full City Council for review. If the committee's CTEP questions are answered this week, and the city is given the green light to move ahead with its plans to sell the building, the City Council will vote on one of the two proposals at its regular meeting Aug. 16 at 8 p.m. at City Hall.