Newly appointed council member concerned that city doesn't own property.
Moments after being sworn in as the new Ward 3 representative on the Crookston City Council, succeeding the resigned Keith Mykleseth, Gary Willhite Monday evening cast the lone vote against the construction of the pavilion structure at the Downtown Square.
The council two weeks ago actually approved moving ahead with the construction of a scaled-back structure in the $60,000 range, with the option of adding various amenities to the structure as long as it remained below the previously approved maximum budget of $100,000. But at Monday's meeting, when a resolution containing a list of change orders arrived at by a council sub-committee was detailed by Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook, that gave Willhite his first opportunity to speak on the subject as an official council member.
"This sounds risky," Willhite said.
Willhite biggest issue, the fact that the city is only leasing the Downtown Square land and doesn't own it, has been voiced with various degrees of concern by a couple other council members in recent months, with Ward 6's Tom Vedbraaten voicing the strongest objections. But as long as assurances have remained in place that the pavilion won't cost more than $100,000, Vedbraaten has for the most part cast votes in favor of the Downtown Square.
Willhite said he's asked himself if he'd personally invest up to $100,000 on land he doesn't own, and that his answer is no. "Have we really thought this out?" he wondered.
Mayor Dave Genereux, At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye, Ward 1 Council Member Tom Jorgens and City Administrator Tony Chladek tried to assure Willhite that the city is in a good position on the lease, which has nine years remaining on the initial 10-year agreement and includes a clause allowing the city to trigger a 10-year extension once the first decade expires. The annual rate is $700, with annual 3 percent increases, and the city will own the tax-exempt structure. Also, Jorgens added, if someone at some point offers to buy the property, the city has the option to match the price.
"No, it doesn't have everything we'd like to see in an investment like this, but it is a choice downtown spot and it will hopefully help the downtown grow," Genereux said, adding that if more amenities are added to the square once the pavilion is built, they will likely be driven by local service clubs, organizations and businesses who want to contribute to the square.
Willhite said he's also concerned about the topography of the location, saying senior citizens might have a hard time accessing the pavilion. Building Official Matt Johnson responded to that concern by saying the pavilion will have to meet accessibility codes.
Melbye, who's led the Downtown Square charge from the get-go, said even though the city doesn't own the land, it's in a favorable position for at least another 19 years. "After 20 years, considering what we're paying on the lease, we'll have gotten our money's worth," he said.
DeBoer Builders is constructing the pavilion.