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BE debates whether to sell or keep Ag Center

By Staff | Mar 9, 2015

Blue Earth city administrator Tim Ibisch had a question for the City Council last Monday night at their work session, held before the regular meeting.

How long does the council foresee keeping ownership of the AgCenter building.

“Are we planning on holding on to it, or are you thinking we will ‘shop it,’ put it up for sale?” Ibisch asked.

The reason for the question was the Economic Development Authority, which was given the building as a gift from Bevcomm and its owner Bill Eckles, wants to know what the plan is.

Because, says Ibisch, they want to make plans for the building for the future, including major maintenance work.

Mayor Rick Scholtes, who is also on the EDA board, explained that the EDA is unanimous in their decision that they should keep ownership of the AgCenter.

“But, we would like about a five year commitment from the council that they agree to retain ownership,” the mayor said. “We don’t want to make major improvements and have the city put it up for sale, right away.”

Several council members, however, expressed concern over such a decision without knowing all of the costs involved in ownership.

The major costs would probably be the roof, parking lot and future repairs to the heating/air conditioning system, the council said.

Currently, the EDA has shown about a $10,000 per month ‘profit’ for the first three months of ownership. But the council fears those numbers do not include everything.

“What about (property) taxes and insurance?” councilman John Gartzke asked. “And the costs for maintenance and repairs?”

Councilman Glenn Gaylord agreed.

“We need to know if there are hidden costs and what all of the expenses are,” Gaylord said. “We can’t make a commitment now without all of the numbers.”

Gartzke added it would be like putting the cart before the horse. He also suggested selling the building to the tenants, but other councilmen said that had been tried in the past and there was little interest in it.

Councilman John Huisman, who is also on the EDA board, said he felt that a rough idea of the numbers for projected expenses and income could be presented at the next meeting, and Ibisch agreed.

The city administrator also brought up the idea of hiring a full-time maintenance manager at the AgCenter.

“With what we pay in maintenance costs now, it could be worthwhile to look at hiring our own person,” Ibisch said. “I can have those numbers next meeting as well.”

Councilman Dan Brod said he thought it was important to keep in mind the AgCenter is owned by the EDA.

“I think it is important to let them operate it, not us (the city),” Brod said. “I have no interest in us operating it.”

Scholtes said the EDA plans to do maintenance work out of the profits of the building rents, and has no plan on ever using public funds for it.

“If it doesn’t make money, then we would get rid of it,” Scholtes said. “But we could operate it like the fitness center or the liquor store.”

Huisman pointed out that there is a space in the AgCenter, once the medical clinic, which is not being used.

“The EDA wants to use that area to try and attract new business here,” he said. “I also think it is important we back the EDA board, because they want to work on this (AgCenter ownership) and make it work.”

The City Council will revisit the issue of the Ag Center at their next work session.