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City delays contributing to event center study

How much would an event center benefit Alexandria?

Would the economic punch from a center justify the costs?

What kind of events would it bring here and how many people would it draw?

Those are the kind of questions a committee hopes to answer as it explores the possibility of expanding the Runestone Community Center or building a new event center somewhere else in the city.

But it will take a study and money - $50,000 - to find out.

At its meeting Monday night, Alexandria City Council members were receptive to the idea of having an event center in Alexandria but in a 3-2 vote, they delayed taking action on the committee's request for the city to contribute $21,000 to the feasibility study.

The committee has already raised $29,000 from the Otto Bremer Foundation and Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality (AHH).

Virgil Batesole made the motion to hold off spending any city dollars for the study until the city is in better financial position. He cited a report from the League of Minnesota Cities that said if small cities don't make drastic changes in their budgets, they'll go broke by 2015 because aid from the state is drying up.

Council member Elroy Frank supported the study. He noted that the Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality (AHH) committee, which includes Batesole, voted for it. "I think we have an opportunity here," Frank said. "It's a move-forward issue."

Frank noted that the city has lost out on hosting some big events in the past, such as a square dancing convention, because it didn't have a facility for it.

Batesole responded that he'd vote in favor of the study if no city dollars were involved. He had other concerns as well. "Who would build it?" he asked. "The city doesn't have enough money to do it."

Batesole added that the private business sector should be able to come up with the $21,000 to complete the study and said that he, as a business person, would make a donation to it himself.

Council member Sara Carlson said that she hasn't agreed often with Batesole in the past but shared a similar view about an event center. She said that even if the study showed the center would have great potential, the city is not in the financial shape to do it. "Right now, in this economy, it's tough," she said.

The council asked committee representative Dan Miller how long the study would be useful even if the event center isn't built. Miller said that the information in the study would still be valid for "quite a while," perhaps three to six years.

Council member Owen Miller suggested Batesole amend his motion to add a specific date on the delay in action, such as August 13.

Batesole said he wanted his motion to stay as it was. "I'm against spending even $1 of taxpayer dollars for it," he said.

Batesole, Carlson and Miller voted for the motion while Frank and Dave Benson voted against it.


In other action, the council:

•Accepted the 2011 audit of the city's finances conducted by CliftonLarsonAllen. The audit contained good financial news for the city. Revenues (totaling $7.9 million) were up 4.7 percent higher than expected and expenditures ($7.3 million) were down about 4 percent. All six city departments came in under budget for the year. The city had budgeted to break even for the year but came out ahead with $2.8 million in its general fund. The city has enough money in its reserves to operate for about four and a half months without fresh revenue, which is close to the five-month time span recommended by the federal Office of Management and Budget. Batesole voted against accepting the budget. He said the city's charter does not require approval from the council. He said it only states that the council should accept it.

•Decertified the tax increment financing (TIF) district that was created for Cabinets by Carter, Inc. in 2001 and began in 2003. Jason Murray, director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission, requested the decertification.

•Called for bids to make improvements of more than $1 million in Alexandria Light and Power's electrical distribution system. Work will be done in four areas - a new underground feeder from Woodland Elementary School to Grand Arbor; new underground lines in the Hustad Mobile Home Park; the development of new feeder cables along 6th Avenue from Quincy Street to Rosewood Lane; and underground cable replacement near Viking Plaza along 30th Avenue from the Verizon store to Bennigan's. All parts of the project were in ALP's 2012 budget.

•Called for bids to improve two city parking lots downtown - the one adjacent to 5th Avenue East/Hawthorne Street and the one adjacent to 7th Avenue East. The bids will be considered at the council's August 13 meeting.

•Voted to restripe 2nd Avenue between Kenwood and Nokomis Street in order to provide better parking along the north side of 2nd Avenue. It will match the existing striping on 2nd Avenue from Broadway to Kenwood. Right now, employees from Elden's Fresh Foods are parking their cars along the street and other drivers have to cross over the center line of the road to pass by them. The cost of the work is estimated at $8,900 and will be done in conjunction with this year's local street overlay projects.

•Agreed to restrict parking along Jefferson Street by Washington Square to accommodate Rainbow Rider pick-up and drop-off. Vehicles will only be allowed to park for 15 minutes in the spaces by the front doors of Washington Square.

•Voted to extend the city's franchise agreement with Charter Communications to August 31, 2012. The 10-year agreement was set to expire July 12, 2012. Representatives for the city have been meeting with Charter. This gives them more time to work out an agreement.

EdenloffAl Edenloff Al Edenloff was born in Alexandria and later moved to Parkers Prairie where he graduated in 1979. While in high school, he wrote sports stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent. Al graduated from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communication and started at the Echo Press as a summer intern in 1983. He worked as a reporter until 1990 when he was named editor. He's earned several writing and reporting awards from the Minnesota Newspaper Association (MNA) and the National Newspaper Association. He was presented with the Minnesota News Council's Journalism Accountability Award and is a three-time winner of the MNA's Herman Roe Editorial Writing Award. In his spare time, Al enjoys golfing, fishing, biking, watching sports, cooking and reading mystery novels.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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