Building will be remodeled for expanded city offices
By Robert Williams
After much discussion, the Vergas City Council unanimously approved the city’s purchase of 131 East Main Avenue to house the city offices after holding a public comment session and special council meeting on Wednesday, Sep 27, at the Event Center.
The extra session was called after multiple concerns about the purchase were brought to council by members of the Vergas Economic Development Authority (EDA) / Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA).
EDA/HRA president Kevin Zitzow and fellow member DuWayne Ditterich led multiple discussions, both at the monthly EDA/HRA meeting and this month’s earlier council meeting. The main argument centered around the need for downtown space to be prioritized for retail business rather than government offices.
Compounding those issues was a tight deadline set by the property sellers. The property was up for sale with a one-week deadline to submit bids.
At Wednesday’s special meeting, council members Paul Pinke and Natalie Fischer, a downtown business owner, spoke in favor of the purchase. Fischer has been a big proponent of the purchase from the beginning of discussions.
Her main point is the low cost of less than $1 per taxpayer per year for the building, as the purchase includes the Post Office, which leases the building for roughly $14,000 per year.
The actual lease is $13,900 per year over a five-year contract with the amount going up $1,000 each year for the length of the term.
Other options to the purchase put forth included remodels of the Event Center and downtown.
“If we remodel it’s going to cost way more than that,” said Fischer.
That point has been the main justification since the city announced the purchase.
“Getting the rent from the post office makes a big difference in what our overhead is,” said Mayor Bruhn at the Sept. 12 council meeting. “The fact that we would have money coming in was a big part of it.”
Event Center remodeling is also compounded by the existing need for more parking at the location and the fact that a remodel to include city offices would eat up the bar space and limit the number of people who could attend functions there.
Multiple members of council have noted that the Event Center loses a lot of bookings to Frazee’s Event Center, which can hold nearly double the number of attendees.
Parking also remains the top issue in Vergas.
“It is our number one complaint; it’s constant,” Bruhn said.
Bruce Albright, council liaison to the EDA/HRA, spoke prior to Wednesday’s vote on the difficulties of the decision from both sides and the productive nature of the talks and working together.
“We had a really good discussion about this potential purchase,” he said. “I hate to see a small town divided; I think this has been a good discussion…whatever happens here, hopefully, we find a way to move on and make Vergas the place we’ve all loved and grown up here and continues to be that.”
EDA/HRA member Vanessa Perry, one of the bidder’s for the building, summarized the process well, just prior to the vote.
“I know there were people interested in business ideas,” she said. “What’s going to happen here is going to happen. What we want to do or whoever else wants to do, they’ll look for the next place and this will go on, but the main thing was you had a tight timeframe and it upset a lot of people just not having any knowledge of it and at the end of the day where a big problem comes.”
“That’s a good point,” Mayor Bruhn said. “This was unique.”
In all, the final discussion lasted 15 minutes, which was far less time than either the September EDA/HRA meeting, which went over two hours and the September 12 council meeting, which ran nearly three hours, something Mayor Bruhn called a record for meeting length before coming to a vote that was quickly approved 4-0.
The board also passed a resolution to allow city clerk/treasurer Julie Lammers to complete the purchase paperwork.