Board of Public Works recommends City relinquish claims to former Legion Building for $10,000
Merrill City Common Council still needs to vote on their recommendation
TINA L. SCOTT
The City of Merrill Board of Public Works met on Wednesday, Sept. 1, and once again considered how to best resolve the City’s interest in the former American Legion Building (now know as the Livingston Center) across from the T.B. Scott Library.
The Merrill Historical Society currently owns the building, but the City has a reversionary clause whereby the property reverts back to the City if the Historical Society vacates the property. The Historical Society is on the verge of doing so and already has an Agreement with Jonathon Malm who has proposed to purchase the property and both preserve the building and develop it as a non-profit center for the arts, hoping to create a venue that will both benefit community residents and draw visitors to the community.
The City has received a couple of legal opinions from outside counsel on the City’s interest in the property, and both the Board of Public Works and the City Council, as well as others the Mayor said he has spoken with, are divided on the best way to go forward, the Mayor said.
Most recently, the Historical Society proposed to essentially purchase that reversionary clause from the City for $10,000 by paying the City $10,000 from the proceeds of the sale to Malm in exchange for the City relinquishing any future claim on the property.
At this Sept. 1 Board of Public Works meeting, the group initially considered a Motion by Alderman Steve Sabatke to remove the City’s claim on the property on the condition that the Historical Society sell the property to a non-profit or an organization in the process of becoming a non-profit. While the motion did receive a second from Alderman John Van Lieshout, after in-depth discussions, when it came to a vote, the motion died.
Several other options were considered, including the City sending a formal letter to the Historical Society kindly asking them to vacate the property so the City could take official reversionary ownership and then put the property up for bid, possibly to non-profits only. Another option was putting it up for bid with all of the proceeds going into some kind of grant program to be used for the arts. But concerns were also noted that no other non-profits have expressed an interest in purchasing the building and there is a bona fide offer on the table.
In the end, Mayor Derek Woellner made a new motion, seconded by Alderman John Van Lieshout, to do exactly what the Historical Society had proposed: to relinquish all future claims to the former American Legion property in exchange for $10,000, payable at the time the Merrill Historical Society sells the property.
“There’s a value in that building being used for what has been proposed,” Woellner said.
It can be good for the community not only currently monetarily, but also for the future both monetarily and culturally, he said.
“Removing ourselves from it isn’t going to cost us anything, and it’s potentially an amenity to the City,” another Board member said.
The current Commander of American Legion Post 46, [and also Alderman] John VanLieshout, said he has asked other members of the American Legion for their opinions, and he is hearing they would all be happy to see Malm use the building for the art center purpose he has outlined.
City Administrator Dave Johnson said this isn’t much different than other instances where the City has given away a property to see it developed in a particular way, to which Woellner said that if the City would consider giving it away, he’d rather just get the $10,000 and then be done with it. He described the motion as the best compromise. Let’s get something for our claim. We’re getting something for everyone. Then get rid of the reversionary clause, he said.
“We’ve been playing pingpong for two months now. I think this is the compromise that we can settle on,” the Mayor said.
Most Board members agreed it was highly doubtful anyone would be willing to purchase the property and invest money into it if the reversionary clause stays with the property.
City Building Inspector Darin Pagel also pointed out that, due to current zoning, the property would have to stay a non-profit. If it were to be used for anything else, it would need to be re-zoned. Thus, the Council has the authority to keep the property use as non-profit or public use.
In the end, the majority ruled in favor of the motion on a voice vote, with Alderman Mike Rick being the lone “no” vote.
The matter will now go to the Common Council for a final vote. If passed, that will mean the City will receive $10,000 from the Merrill Historical Society’s sale of the property and the Historical Society will retain the rest of the net proceeds of the sale.
Board approves Haunted Sawmill’s request
The Board unanimously approved the Haunted Sawmill’s Street Use Permit requesting to close the street in the area in front of the Haunted Sawmill (Hendricks Street from East Seventh St. to East Eighth St.) from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. on the following dates in 2021: Oct. 8, Oct. 9, Oct. 15, Oct. 16, Oct. 22, Oct. 23, Oct. 29, Oct. 30, and Oct. 31, in conjunction with a haunted house event.
In other business, the Mayor introduced discussion regarding potential RV sites with the idea of creating an RV park within the City limits, hopefully in relatively close proximity to the downtown to draw more business in for merchants. The Merrill Festival Grounds is currently developing 18 sites that will be used for rodeos, carnivals, and such most often. There is a good deal of planning and infrastructure that would have to go into such an endeavor, to develop other such sites within the city, the Board determined, and some members didn’t feel there are enough activities to draw families in to camp within the city limits of Merrill.
Moving on, the Board discussed possible petitions, projects, and capital requests for 2022 and started the preliminary 2022 planning process.
They finished up by reviewing reports from department heads.