Willmar City Council shares concerns about city hall cost, Block 50 location

Jan. 23—WILLMAR

— Members of the

Willmar City Council

are voicing concerns regarding the city's ability to afford building a new city hall and a new community center, as well as concerns with the Block 50 location for a potential new city hall.

If both the community center and city hall were built new, the cost for each building ranges from roughly $15 million to $20 million, or a total of close to $35 million, according to estimates provided by architect firm BKV Group.

Building a combined city hall and community center ranges from roughly $25 million to $29 million.

Both Councilor Audrey Nelsen and Tom Butterfield at the council meeting on Jan. 16 shared their concerns with the costs and whether the city could afford it, and other councilors have voiced concerns regarding the cost in the past.

Butterfield brought up renovating the current buildings and Nelsen suggested the city could only afford to build one or the other.

Councilor Justin Ask asked Finance Director Tom Odens how much the city can afford for a new city hall and community center without raising taxes even a penny.

Odens did some very quick math to come up with what he said was a "very rough number."

With the money that has already been set aside from tax collections in 2022, 2023 and 2024 for debt service for a new city hall and the money for the community center from the local option sales tax — $1.5 million and $2 million, respectively — the city can spend approximately $12 million without raising taxes in the future.

It should be noted that if the council decides to build only a city hall, the city would have approximately $10 million without raising taxes, because the $2 million from the local option sales tax approved by voters must go toward the community center.

"This is using the tax impact sheet that (advisory firm) Baker Tilly had provided a couple of months ago," Odens told the council, noting that is with a 4% interest rate on a 30-year bond. "There are other factors that would come into play, but using that same sheet that was supplied to the council a few meetings ago, that would be the really rough number."

Councilor Carl Shuldes, who favors building a new city hall on Block 50, told the council that it needs to make it clear to the public that a new building would not take up the entire parking lot, but only about 40 spaces on the northwest portion of the lot. The parking lot has a total of about 208 spaces for parking, according to City Administrator Leslie Valiant.

The largest portion of Block 50, which is located between CentraCare — Rice Memorial Hospital and the Willmar Public Library, is the parking lot.

The Lakes Area Dental office sits in the southern part of Block 50 along Trott Avenue Southwest. There is also the Cletus J. Frank Law Office on the northwest corner of the block and Bethel Lutheran Church is on the northeast corner.

Shuldes noted that people who use the parking lot for the hospital, library and dentist would still have the majority of the parking lot to use.

However, Ask and Councilor Mike O'Brien voiced their concerns with taking up even that much of the lot for a new city hall.

O'Brien noted he has heard from numerous constituents who say parking downtown is already "miserable. They are saying, please don't take away our parking spots."

Valiant reminded the council that a parking study showed that 40% of the parking lot is not used currently and the city hall would take up far less than 40% of the parking spaces.

"I think that study can be accurate and at the same time, (citizens') concerns can be accurate, because it depends on when you are going down there," Ask said, noting he is also receiving a lot of comments about parking downtown.

He shared that he was downtown the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 10, and counted only 21 open spots in the Block 50 parking lot.

"That would have been a time — if city hall would have been there and those 35, 37 spots, plus the spots reserved or taken by city employees — that would have been a real problem for people to find parking on Wednesday morning last week," Ask said, noting that it would also impact parking for

Barn Theatre

events.

O'Brien also shared that he uses the dentist that is located on the south portion of the block and it has been difficult to find a parking spot at times.

"The people that have contacted me, not all of them, but a majority of them, again, are really concerned about the parking in Willmar," O'Brien said.