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Despite vote, Blue Building work discussed

McMinnville residents voiced their opinion that city officials should not spend $6 million on Blue Building restoration. That measure failed 60.4 percent to 39.6 percent during a referendum last Tuesday.
Now under consider is reducing the cost of renovation by removing parts of the building, such as the gymnasium.
Incoming Alderman Mike Neal says he believes the city should consider removing the non-historic parts of the building and renovating the rest.
“My opinion on the Blue Building is we shouldn’t renovate the whole thing, but I would hate to lose another historic building,” said Neal. “We could remove the gymnasium and wings of the building and just renovate the mansion in the center of the building. We could probably do that for way under $2 million.”
According to the city’s appraisal done years ago in 2008, renovating the entire building was estimated at $6 million. The gymnasium and auditorium comprise almost $2.4 million of the cost, while the main building — wings included — was almost $3.4 million.
The property, once renovated, could be used as a permanent home for the police department or rented for office space, says Neal.
“I’m for the city using it for office space that we can rent out if we don’t use it for the police department,” he said. “It has the potential to make some income for the city. It could possibly have some commercial value for some local shops. If we remove the gymnasium, there will be enough room behind it to build a police department.”
Fellow incoming Aldermen Ben Newman and Jimmy Bonner are also in favor of a partial demolition to save the main structure.
“I don’t know the ins and outs of the building,” said Newman. “I haven’t been in it but I talked to one electrician who has. Based on that conversation, some of it is salvageable. The auditorium and gymnasium can be removed and the main part of the building renovated and used.”
Bonner says, “We have a building that needs renovation and we have a police department that needs a permanent home. Let’s renovate the main building and move the police department back into the Blue Building. Once the gymnasium and wings are removed, I think you can cut renovation costs down to way under $2 million.”
Rather than renovate the main building all at once, Newman is in favor of staged renovation to ease the financial burden.
“I would like to renovate at least a floor at a time,” he said. “If one floor can be renovated, we could use it for the police department. Then, we can move onto another floor of the building.”
Bonner is in favor of giving the property away, rather than allowing it to deteriorate.
“I know the people have said no to spending $6 million, but we need to do something about the building,” Bonner said. “Maybe we could turn it over to someone who has an interest in it. I don’t want it to sit there and fall down.”
While several board members are in favor of removing part of the building to save the main structure, Aldermen Billy Wood and Jimmy Haley are not.
Wood is in favor of handing the building over to a private group.
“The voters have clearly stated they do not want taxpayer money spent to renovate it,” said Wood. “However, I would hate to see another historic building bulldozed into the ground. There might be a possibility that a private group could do something with the building.”
Haley is in favor of saving the entire building.
“I think the $6 million price tag scared people,” said Haley. “It doesn’t have to be that much. There are options, even though it failed. We could partner with a group to help us stabilize the building and find a suitable buyer or tenant that would save the building.”
Removing the gymnasium, auditorium and wings is not an option for Haley.
“The building is 65,000 square feet of space that’s not utilized and an asset that should be used and not abused,” Haley said. “We shouldn’t remove assets. If we did a conference center there, we need the auditorium and an exhibition hall.”
Alderman Rick Barnes could not be reached for comment.


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