Alexandria council hears request to revive historic downtown buildingIt’s a grand old building filled with more than 100 years of history but it’s been sitting silent and vacant for the last decade. It’s the Carnegie Building that sits across from Alexandria City Hall on 7th Avenue West that was once the home of the Douglas County Library. Now, the Douglas County Historical Society (DCHS) wants to make it a vibrant part of the community once again.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
It’s a grand old building filled with more than 100 years of history, but it’s been sitting silent and vacant for the last decade.
It’s the Carnegie Building, once the home of the Douglas County Library, that sits across from Alexandria City Hall on 7th Avenue West.
Now, the Douglas County Historical Society (DCHS) wants to make it a vibrant part of the community once again.
At an Alexandria City Council meeting Monday night, the historical society asked the city to explore the possibility of buying the historic building.
Carol Neumann, DCHS board member, said the DCHS doesn’t have the means to manage the entire building but is interested in using parts of it while still operating out of its existing location at 1219 South Nokomis Street.
She said the lower level could be used as a DCHS research facility. The upper level has two large offices and additional space that could be used for small group meetings, traveling historical exhibits and as a venue for wedding receptions or musical performances.
It’s not a cheap proposition. The building is currently listed for sale at $799,000 after it was originally listed in 2007 for $1 million, according to the DCHS.
The city isn’t the only potential buyer the historical society is approaching. It also planned to talk with the Douglas County Board at Tuesday’s meeting.
The council voted to refer the request to city staff for more study and to find out what the county thinks about the idea.
“I wish we had the money to buy it,” said council member Virgil Batesole. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful building, especially the historic part of it.”
Neumann encouraged the council to “think out of the box” and seriously consider the purchase. She said the DCHS would work with both the city and county to explore opportunities.
The council encouraged the DCHS to see if there were grants available for such a transaction.
Some council members wondered if it would even be legal for the city to buy the building. City Administrator Jim Taddei noted that the city had, in fact, owned the building for a time before the county took it over as a library. Later, when it was sold to a private party, the proceeds went to the library, which is now operating out of the Douglas County Services Center.
The Carnegie Building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1903 by Henry A. Foeller as a public library. After serving as the Douglas County Library for many years, the building was sold in 1997 to an owner who completely remodeled the interior into two large private offices on the main level and a Catholic bookstore on the lower level.
The building received a new heating, electrical and lighting system, a handicap-accessible elevator, four new bathrooms, new floors, fireplace upgrades, new shelving and exterior improvements such as new shingles, brick tuck-pointing, landscaping, and new front-entry steps.
Annual utility costs for the building totaled $4,740 for electricity and $1,430 for gas in 2010, an average of $514 a month, according to information provided by the DCHS.
In other action Monday night, the council:
•Approved an agreement with Widseth Smith Nolting and Associates to provide the engineering work for the 50th Avenue reconstruction project between South Broadway and County Road 106 (at the railroad tracks). The estimated cost of the engineering is $429,783. The total cost of the project is estimated at $2.82 million. After property owners Terry Akenson and Mark Lee expressed concerns about the assessments they’d be paying, the city chopped $533,000 off the initial estimated cost of $3.4 million by pursuing an alternate loop of the watermain that would run from 50th Avenue to Pioneer Road east to Snowbird Lane. The alternative loop would still serve the new high school and housing developments in that area. The other more expensive watermain loop could be installed at a later date.
•Agreed to apply for a $45,000 state grant to purchase a plow truck for removing snow in the driveway, parking lot and hanger area at the Alexandria Airport. The state would cover two-thirds of the cost, leaving the city to cover $15,000, which would come out of the airport’s capital improvement fund.
•Accepted a feasibility report for paving improvements on a 700-foot section of Boys Avenue, starting from Government Point Road. The cost is estimated at $72,896. City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven noted that the project wouldn’t solve the flooding problems on the road but it wouldn’t make the situation any worse. He said a series of segmented ditches would be constructed. A public hearing is scheduled for April 8 at 7:15 p.m. to get input from the affected property owners.
•Issued on-sale and Sunday liquor license to Clubhouse Bistro LLC at the Alexandria Golf Course. The new manager is Susan Nelson, owner of Bistro to Go in Alexandria. The cost of the license will be prorated to its effective length of time, from March 31 to December 31, 2013.
•Approved a request from Zion Lutheran Church to shut down three city blocks for the church’s annual Passion Drama that will take place on March 24 from 1 to 6 p.m. and on March 26 from 4 to 9 p.m. The streets include the 300 block of Lake Street, the 600 block of 4th Avenue East and the 300 block of Maple Street.
•Approved a resolution for a multi-agency law enforcement joint powers agreement, as requested by Police Chief Rick Wyffels. The council took action to approve the agreement at a previous meeting. This action was for a more formal resolution, as required by the state. The agreement allows the Alexandria Police Department to become a member of the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The department may be asked to conduct forensic examinations of computers, cellular phones or other digital media for law enforcement agencies within the region. In return, the APD will receive an upper-end desktop computer valued at $3,000 to $3,500 for doing the investigations and some training valued at $2,000. The task force has a total expense budget of $320,000.
•Approved Mayor Sara Carlson’s re-appointment of Don Nolting to the Alexandria Lakes Area Sanitary District Board.
•Approved the following licenses: excavating license to Hvezda Excavating; gambling premise permit to allow Raaper’s of Alexandria to conduct charitable gambling operations (paper and electronic pulltabs, bingo, etc.) that will benefit the Alexandria Area Hockey Association.
ABOUT THE CARNEGIE LIBRARY BUILDING
Located at the corner of 7th Avenue and Fillmore Street, the Carnegie Building is a Beaux Arts structure that is among Minnesota’s 66 Carnegie-funded libraries. Industrial philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had a lifelong love of reading and learning and provided funding for more than 2,500 public libraries. Of the original 66 in Minnesota, 48 buildings still stand and 22 are working libraries, according to an Echo Press story published in
December 2011. Alexandria’s building was constructed in 1903 with a $12,000 gift from Carnegie. Its price tag today: $799,000.
See related story Historical Society pitches Carnegie Library plea to commissioners.