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Officials lean toward fixing Blue Building

A tour of city-owned properties on Saturday was enlightening for some members of McMinnville’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
A Blue Building decision and Park Theatre renovation top the to-do list.
Alderman Rick Barnes buys old houses and renovates them for rent or resale. He says the same can be done of the Blue Building.
“I’ve renovated 13 homes,” said Barnes. “You take them down to the bare bones, just to see what you’ve got, and do a complete renovation. The same thing could be done with the Blue Building. The city is not going to sell it and nobody wants it, so the only thing left is to renovate it.”
Future use could include government offices, and new housing for the city police and fire departments.
“We are looking at $1 million for a new police department and $1 million for a new fire station,” said Barnes. “You are well on your way to what the renovation would actually cost, in my opinion. We could even move city hall back over there.”
Alderman Jimmy Bonner says he is on board with renovating the Blue Building as a permanent home for the police and fire departments.
“I’m for removing the gym and auditorium,” Bonner said. “There is nothing historic about those. That would give us enough space to build a fire department and a police department. We could renovate and use the main part of the building as a welcome center or something.”
Bonner wants to hire an architect to go through the building and generate numbers on actual cost, with the first priority being given to relocating the police department.
The police department is currently being housed at Red Road Business Park after being removed from the Blue Building in November 2009. In September, police department rent will increase to more than $68,000 annually.
Officials toured the Blue Building, Civic Center, Water Plant, Pepper Branch Park, Fire Station 1/ City Garage, Sewer Plant, Rocket Park, Sallys Alley, McMinnville Police Department, and Public Works. Tours were geared toward helping them prioritize which properties should be targeted for future capital expenditures.
Alderman Mike Neal says the tour did little to change his priority list as to what the city should do.
“We have to figure out what to do with the Blue Building,” said Neal. “That decision is holding up other projects. We can’t make a determination about appropriating money until we know what we are going to do with the Blue Building — sell it or renovate it. Hopefully, in the next month or so, we can make that decision. Park Theatre renovation should be right behind it.”
The Blue Building’s condition wasn’t a shock to Neal.
“It looked the way I thought it would,” he said. “The first floor is not in too bad of shape. The second floor and other parts of the building were a little worse.”
Mayor Jimmy Haley says there wasn’t really anything eye opening in the tour for him.
“I’ve been in all the buildings multiple times,” said Haley. “Everything was as I thought it would be. The roof has been leaking more in the police department than I thought it was, but I didn’t see anything that I thought was eye-opening in any of the buildings.”
Park Theatre renovation is No. 1 on Haley’s list, with making a decision on moving the Police Department and Blue Building a close second.
“Park Theatre renovation is No. 1 on my list,” said Haley. “The people have spoken. And, we need to find a permanent place for the police station. I know some board members are looking at the Blue Building, but we haven’t determined what work needs to be done.”
Haley says he was disheartened by the condition of the Blue Building in comparison from the last time he toured it.
“Some maintenance work that should have been done, could have been done, wasn’t,” he said. “I’m going to go through the building with some construction people and architect Peter Mets. I would like to obtain plans and a cost estimate for renovating the building in phases. If the aldermen want to renovate, we will have that information.”
Officials called for a referendum during the last election asking city residents to spend $6 million on renovating the Blue Building, which failed, and to spend $2 million on Park Theatre, which passed. A campaign was launched to inform the public about the future use of Park Theatre, but no push was made for the Blue Building.
Haley says the Blue Building failed because there were no plans for its future.
“I think it lacked a plan and that’s why it failed,” he said. “If we had a plan for it and gave it the same push we did for Park Theatre, I think it would have passed.
On the list of tour spots were Pepper Branch Park, Rocket Park and Sallys Alley. Alderman Barnes has been pushing the need to open Sallys Alley to the public to allow access into the river.
The push has come to an end, Barnes said.
“There was no interest in Sallys Alley whatsoever,” said Barnes. “We went down to the new bridge on Beersheba Street and Sallys Alley. There was one alderman, the mayor, one citizen and myself. I’m going to hang that one up. I hate that because it would be almost free.”
Priorities haven’t changed for Barnes.
“Before we do anything with the Blue Building, it needs to go to a referendum,” said Barnes. “When we sent it the first time, the cards were stacked against it. The $6 million was not a quote. It was a guesstimate. I don’t think it would cost that much to renovate it.”
Removal of the Blue Building isn’t an option for Barnes.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say it should be torn down,” said Barnes. “That’s a good solid building. The city needs space for the police department and the fire department. Why buy property and build when you have five acres of prime location in downtown? That building is very repairable.”
Vice Mayor Ben Newman and Alderman Ken Smith could not be reached for comment. Alderman Billy Wood did not participate in the tour.


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