The fate of the Blue Building is still up in the air after a meeting last week ended without a final decision from new city board members about what should be done — restore it, or sell it.
Meeting to discuss the situation for the first time since taking office last month were Building and Grounds Committee members Ben Newman, Ken Smith and Jimmy Bonner. The Blue Building has been vacant since 2009.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say the police department needs a place, so fix the Blue Building and put them in there,” said Newman. “Ken, what are your thoughts on the Blue Building and where to go with it?”
Smith says he has been looking at the city’s capital improvement plans, which includes items such as Park Theatre, street paving, relocating McMinnville Police Department, renovation or relocation of McMinnville Fire Department, and trying to figure out a way to fund them.
“I certainly believe the main part of the Blue Building, from a historical standpoint, if it can be renovated at a reasonable cost, needs to be saved. I think that it probably can,” Smith said.
With both fire and police in need of a home and a city property sitting vacant, Smith suggested combining the two projects.
“We have a real need for the police department and we will definitely need a place for the fire station before too long,” said Smith. “The Blue Building would eliminate purchasing anything. We are right now in the beginning stages of discussing this so this might take some time.”
While prior board members discussed the future of the Blue Building since the police department left in 2009, this is the first time these officials have discussed it.
Newman says he is in favor of preserving the historical portion.
“The front middle section of the house is the historical part,” he said. “The two wings were added onto it at some point. Then, the auditorium and gym were added on after that. It seems to me the auditorium and gym are not historical. We could get rid of them and work with the rest of the building.”
Bonner says he would like to renovate the entire building as a future home for fire, police and city hall in order to save taxpayer dollars.
Mayor Jimmy Haley says he invited Rachel Killebrew and Dr. Neil Schultz, members of McMinnville Heritage Preservation, to attend the meeting.
In early 2012, the preservation group wanted to contract with the city to find a suitable buyer for the property. The agreement presented would have given the group exclusive rights to market the property, an option to buy, and allowed the organization to place a lien on the property for repayment of improvements once the property is sold.
The agreement was rejected by city attorney Tim Pirtle in April 2012 because the city can only enter into a non-exclusive marketing agreement, without an option to buy and without a lien for improvements.
Killebrew says group members will be able to find a suitable buyer, if an agreement can be reached, because she has already been in contact with at least two companies that have shown interest in the property.
This is not the first time Killebrew has informed city officials about possible buyers. When questioned by Newman about the names of the companies, Killebrew stated, “I can’t say. They want to buy the building. If the city would set a price, I can contact them to see if they are still interested.”
The city has never set a price for the property. In 2008, officials had an appraisal done by William A. Haston Sr., who set the value of the property at $1.35 million. Minus $500,000 for demolition, “final value” of the property was set at $850,000.
Pirtle warned officials not to set a price.
“If you set a price and it is accepted by them, you have entered into a legally binding agreement,” Pirtle said. “You can say this is what the property is valued at and it not be legally binding.”
Schultz says, as he informed the board in the past, the organization has $50,000 pledged to market the building.
“I’ve been told that isn’t substantial, but to us it is,” said Schultz. “We just want a chance to market it so we can realize its value. It has some intrinsic value that has never been explored. We know about its historic value, but we want to see the intrinsic value while we maintain the historic value.”
Newman adjourned the meeting without sending a decision to the full board on whether the city should renovate the property for its own use, or enter into an agreement with McMinnville Heritage Preservation to sell it.
“We need to go one way or another,” said Newman. “The way the city has been going is to hold onto it, maintain it, and to not let it fall apart. We can’t make that decision tonight. I wanted to bring people together, lay the issues out, and talk about them.”