Council votes to contribute to Alexandria event center studyOn a 3-2 vote, the council voted to contribute up to $10,000 with the condition that the city’s legal counsel determines it is an appropriate use of public funds.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
A study to explore the benefits of building an event center in Alexandria received a surprise boost from the Alexandria City Council Monday night.
On a 3-2 vote, the council voted to contribute up to $10,000 with the condition that the city’s legal counsel determines it is an appropriate use of public funds.
The item wasn’t on the agenda. Council member Owen Miller made the motion during the “old and other business” portion of the meeting.
The topic was previously raised at the council’s June 25 meeting when an events center steering committee requested the city to contribute $21,000 to a feasibility study that’s estimated to cost $50,000. The committee has already raised $29,000 from the Otto Bremer Foundation and Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality.
At the June 25 meeting, the council voted 3-2 to delay taking action. Virgil Batesole said he supported the idea of an event center and vowed to contribute to the study as a private business person but opposed spending $1 of taxpayer money for it. Sara Carlson said the city wasn’t in a financial position to build an event center even if the study showed it would have great potential to bring in money.
At Monday night’s meeting, Miller, who had previously voted to delay contributing to the study, brought up the issue again by asking Batesole how much he’d be willing to donate to the study. Batesole said he’d give $1,000 as a private donation and challenged the rest of the council to match it.
Miller noted that with Batesole’s contribution and another $1,000 that was pledged at the June 25 meeting by Elliot Christensen, co-owner of Elden’s Fresh Foods, and with the future possibility of more donations, the study was worth supporting.
Both Batesole and Carlson disagreed and repeated their arguments against contributing to the study at this time. They said that the committee should seek money from local businesses to pay for the entire study. “I don’t see it moving forward right now,” Carlson said. “I’m not sure if this is something I’d want to pursue.”
Miller said the study would examine whether an event center is something the city needs, the potential for outside sources of money, what kinds of events the city should bring into town and other valuable insights. He said the study would be similar to a report the city recently approved that examined the condition of city buildings to see if they were up to code.
Council member Elroy Frank, addressing Carlson’s concerns about the timing of building an event center, noted that the study is only looking into the possibility of an event center, not actual construction.
City Attorney Tom Jacobson said he had concerns whether contributing to the study would be a legitimate use of city funds. He said he’d want more time to look into the matter.
Miller then amended his motion to make it contingent on Jacobson’s approval.
Miller, Frank and Dave Benson voted for the motion while Batesole and Carlson voted against it.
Later, during the public comment period, DuWayne Paul of Alexandria told the council that the local business community would be willing to pick up the costs of the study, if they were asked. “Just go get it,” he told the council.
Although not discussed Monday night, the location of an event center is still up in the air. One possibility is to expand the Runestone Community Center (RCC) but the feasibility study is expected to explore other options as well.
IN OTHER ACTION
In other action, the council:
--Appointed Douglas County Engineer Dave Robley to an interview committee that is considering applicants for the city engineer/public works director position. The city received 11 applications and eight met the minimum requirements. Other committee members include Batesole, Frank, City Administrator Jim Taddei, Assistant City Planner Karin Tank and Assistant Administrator Marty Schultz. Batesole added an amendment to include two more engineers on the committee, Don Nolting and Ron Stahlberg, but his amendment was voted down, 4-1. Other council members were concerned that the committee would be too big. Jacobson agreed, saying that he had concerns about bringing in too many people from outside city staff who may not be trained in asking interview questions.
--Accepted a low estimate not to exceed $17,000 from Lennes Brothers Electric of Alexandria for upgrades at the Runestone Community Center. The RCC hasn’t had major electrical improvements since it was built back in 1977, noted RCC Manager Vinnie Hennen. A safety inspection that the city ordered a few months ago showed several safety problems at the RCC. The work includes adding more electrical outlets to eliminate the use of extension cords and upgrading the emergency lighting systems. Lennes Brothers has done electrical work at the RCC before and is very knowledgeable about what needs to be done, said Hennen. Funding will come from the city’s capital improvement fund.
--Listened to an update on the West Central Initiative (WCI) activities from Tom McSparron, donor services officer. WCI, now in its 26th year, organized 48 events this past year that were attended by 2,000 people. The organization also provided $3.4 million in grants and loans. Two new programs were added – a competitive workforce program and access to capital for small businesses. WCI is requesting the city to contribute $8,000 in 2013, which would be matched by the McKnight Foundation. The council thanked McSparron for the report. No action was taken on the funding request.
--Approved an out-of-state travel request from Karin Tank, assistant city planner, to attend a Pro-Walk, Pro-Bike Conference in Long Beach, California on September 10-13. A grant through Active Living Douglas County will pay for the conference, hotel, airfare, meals and other expenses. The only cost the city will incur is Tank’s time while she is away.
--Appointed 51 election judges for the primary election on August 14. They will be located in seven of the city’s polling places: Ward 1, Precincts 1 and 2 – Lake Community Church; Ward 2 – Living Waters Church; Ward 3 – New Life Christian Church; Ward 4 – Cornerstone Church; Ward 5, Precincts 1 and 2 – City Hall.
--Approved a subordination agreement for Jacob and Tracy Capistrant that will allow them to refinance their $6,000 mortgage with the Alexandria Economic Development Authority to Bremer Bank. The property is located in The Trails Addition. Benson recused himself from the discussion and vote.
--Was informed that State Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen was recognized by the League of Minnesota Cities for his support of environmental legislation that was important to cities. Mayor Dan Ness noted that League honor was bestowed on only 23 legislators this year.
--Was informed that WCI’s transportation committee will host an open house at the WCI Fergus Falls office on July 13 at 10 a.m. Council members were invited to attend.
--Approved a charitable gambling permit to the Alexandria Lions Club to offer bingo during the Douglas County Fair, August 16-19.