By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The city of Havre has received the green light from state and federal officials to move forward with its plans to sell the Heritage Center.
The city received a letter dated Sept. 17 that said the city can sell the building without having to repay the federal grant funds it used to purchase and renovate the center. The council reviewed the letter at its meeting Monday night.
The decision was made after Montana Department of Transportation officials met with representatives from the Federal Highway Administration, said the letter, written by Mike Wherley, a Community Transportation Enhancement Program engineer with MDT.
Wherley had earlier notified the city that it likely would have to repay some of the $150,000 in CTEP money spent on the building.
"We have all agreed that the center is a financial hardship to the city, and that you can proceed with the sale of the building," the Sept. 17 letter said.
The FHWA had initially requested an appraisal of the building prior to any sale, but Wherley said the federal agency agreed to waive the appraisal requirement.
"We concluded that the need for repairs, together with the restrictive SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) covenant in the property deed, would make an appraisal meaningless in regard to the real 'market value' of the property," the letter stated.
While the state cannot arrive at a minimum bid, it won't accept a "token" bid, such as $1.
The future of the historic building has been up in the air since June, when the H. Earl Clack Foundation - which began leasing the building in 1996 after the city purchased the former post office and federal courthouse from the U.S. Postal Service - announced it was relinquishing management of the building, effective July 1. The City Council voted June 21 to consider selling the building to a private purchaser. The center houses the county museum and some business offices.
The City Council's Finance Committee began reviewing bids from private entities to buy the building in July. But plans to sell the center were put on hold while the city awaited word from federal and state officials on the financial consequences it would face if it sold the building.
"I think we basically have the road set in front of us now," Council member Terry Schend said at Monday's meeting.
Wherley asked the city to update and resubmit a sales proposal for the center outlined by Havre public works director Dave Peterson in an Aug. 27 letter. Rice sent the requested updated proposal Monday.
Rice's letter said the building will be advertised for sale, with the assistance of MDT's Consultant Design Bureau, in Montana's major newspapers - including those in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula and Havre - at a minimum of once a week for two consecutive weeks, as required by state law.
The letter also outlined the city's plans to add a 5 percent bonus to the building's bid price for each year the H. Earl Clack Museum is allowed to stay in the Heritage Center, up to a maximum of 10 years. If the bid is $100,000 and the museum is allowed to stay in the center for 10 years, the bid would be valued at $150,000.
"That's a good earnest coupon deal," Rice said at Monday's meeting. "We added that in there because we want to see the museum stay."
MDT has approved other provisions for the sale that were proposed in Peterson's letter: All proceeds from the sale will be returned to CTEP; no sale proceeds will go to the city or the H. Earl Clack Foundation; the building will be sold as is; and no CTEP funds will be available to reroof the center.
Rice's letter also added another sales condition, as requested by MDT: that the SHPO covenant - which states that any owner of the building must work with the state historic preservation officer to "preserve and maintain the former Havre Main Post Office" in accordance with the Secretary of Interior's standards for the rehabilitation and treatment of historic properties - be retained as a "part of the sale and any other transfers."
The Finance Committee has received written offers from two prospective buyers. Jim Treperinas offered the city $1 for the building. He said he would make necessary roof repairs and other building improvements so the building's office space would be more attractive to prospective renters.
Tom and Jamie Lambrecht have presented two options for the building, one involving a $5,000 payment to the city and another with a $20,000 cash purchase.
Any proposals will now have to be resubmitted after the city advertises.
"This (MDT's letter) basically makes those proposals null and void," Council member Tom Farnham said Monday.
The council voted 7-1 - with Emily Mayer Lossing the lone dissenting vote - to move forward with the sale of the Heritage Center - agreeing to put the building up for bid for 14 days, after MDT approves the sales advertisement.
Mayer Lossing has planned a public meeting for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Heritage Center to gather community support for the Heritage Center. Mayer Lossing, the Clack museum manager and the city/county historic preservation officer, has proposed placing an initiative on the center on the municipal election ballot in November 2005, asking residents to pay a flat fee of $24 per year to support the building. Despite the city's intentions to sell the building to a private entity, Mayer Lossing said the Wednesday meeting will still go on as planned.
"We're still going to have the meeting to see what kind of support the building has," she said this morning. "It doesn't ever hurt to try."
The museum board and the Clack Foundation will meet tonight at 5 p.m. at the Heritage Center to discuss the museum's options to either stay in the center and pay rent to the city for October or move to a new location.
"This (MDT's response) may be good news for the museum and it may not," museum chairman Ron VandenBoom said at Monday's meeting. "At this point, staying in the center may not necessarily be a rent issue, it may be an environmental one."
In other council news:
The council approved an amended version of an ordinance prohibiting on-street parking for recreational vehicles and trailers year-round within the city limits. The ordinance allows for the temporary parking of RVs - for loading and unloading purposes - for up to 48 hours. The council approved the ordinance by a 6-2 vote, after council member Rick Pierson proposed removing a portion of the definition section of the ordinance, which included pickup campers as trailers. The amendment allows pickup campers to park on city streets.
The council also discussed the importance of keeping order during its meetings after Havre resident Jamie Lambrecht urged the council to find a way to "create a less hostile environment" at meetings. Lambrecht said she believes residents are reluctant to speak or attend council meetings in fear that some people in the council's audience will attack their beliefs.
Council member Dana West said she agrees with Lambrecht.
"Many students come here to watch the political process at work" and it should be done in a respectful manner, she said. "We want to make sure that this is a place where all people feel welcome."
Rice said he is also tired of seeing "adults acting like children" at council meetings and he'll try to do his part to ensure the meetings don't become "hostile" in the future.
"It's up to us at this table to police this room" and keep order, he told the council.
The City Council will meet again Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. at City Hall. The Labor Negotiations Committee is meeting with the union representing Havre police officers Thursday at 6:30.