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Council considers options regarding future of old theatre
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The Civic Auditorium was the hot topic for discussion at Monday night's St. Croix Falls City Council, in fact most of the meeting was spent discussing the possibility of putting the question of the building's future to a referendum.
That move failed, however. The council and the Centennial Committee are facing an uphill battle raising a million more dollars to fund the full planned project.
Members of the public came forward in support of the project. Former St. Croix Falls Alderman Jon Cermin was one of them.
Cermin noted that he and his wife were nearing an age where they were considering their retirement and the future sale of his wife's orthodontics business.
“Right now we could have two nice bookends for the town,” observed Cermin. “One being the library and the other the Civic Auditorium. Or we could have some green space and a million dollar hole in the ground. I ask that you consider the businesses on Main Street and having a vibrant downtown versus not.”
Resident Deb Kravig who also served on the council previously also spoke.
“I encourage you to think regionally,” said Kravig. “Think 10, 15, 25 years down the road. You can't move into prosperity saving money...We are facing what a lot of cities across the country are facing when it comes to infrastructure.”
Mayor Arnie Carlson spoke to the matter, noting that the city had a few options regarding the future.
“We could tear it down, or we could sell it,” observed Carlson.
Carlson went on to present the current numbers to the board based on his best estimates.
The CDA, which is the fund set aside by the TIF for the project currently has $2,794,694.
The Centennial Committee has raised $982,300 in grants.
Donations to the project are $40,921.
Pledges are $109,424.
Thus the estimated total is $3,927,339.
However, Carlson was uncomfortable with the idea of including the pledges in the equation as they may or may not be paid. Without the pledges the total raised for the project is $3,817,915.
“There are three ways we can consider moving forward,” said Carlson. “Do the present (rehab) plans, which include the addition. The present plan and the shell for the addition. Or rehab and make the improvements to the existing structure.”
The project was last bid out in 2016. The estimates Carlson used adjusted for inflation at a rate of five percent increase per year.
To do the whole project including the addition the projected cost is $5,579,800 leaving a shortfall of $1,761,885.
To do the project with the renovations as well as the shell would be an expense of $5,342,419 leaving a shortfall of $1,524,504.
To just rehab the current auditorium structure including things like replacing the HVAC system as well as making it ADA accessible with the addition of an elevator would cost $2,132,100 leaving a surplus of $1,685, 815.
The question looming large in many minds is whether or not the Centennial Committee would be capable of raising the $1.7 million shortfall between now and January.
Alderman Chris Chelberg stated that it may be easier to do further fundraising for the addition with the shell existing.
Chelberg also noted that city will have to look forward to how they will pay for the ongoing maintenance of the building. That if the city owns it they should maintain it and not leave it to whoever is leasing the property.
He also noted how expansive those expenses could be, noting that they will be paying handsomely two to five years down the road to the maintenance company that will keep the elevators functional.
No formal action was taken regarding any course of action.
August 2, 2018
Concession stand fire guts interior
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
Last Friday, shortly after 6:30 p.m. a call went out for smoke coming from the concession stand that services the Saints' football field. Marching band members, who store the instruments in the building, were practicing on the football field saw the smoke and the call was quickly made.
Responding to the scene in a very timely manner was the St. Croix Falls and Taylors Falls Fire Departments.
According to St. Croix Falls Fire Chief Mike Dorsey, the fire appears to have started by someone placing something combustible by the stove and then having the switch inadvertently placed in the on position.
According to a press release from the school district, the building suffered significant damage to the interior:
“...The district is working with its insurance company to begin the restoration process as soon as possible. It is believed that the building while suffering extensive damage, will be able to be restored to its original condition...”
According to one source close to the administration, that work may begin as early as this week.
“A time for completion has not been established. Accommodations for the upcoming football season will be made in terms of restrooms, storage and concessions areas. We ask people to show patience during this process.
“The district would like to extend its heartfelt thanks to both the St. Croix Falls and Taylors Falls Fire Departments for their quick and effective response.
“This building was built through a community effort involving many thousands of hours of donated labor. It's the district's goal to have this building back in operation as soon as possible. The district thanks the many people who have reached out already offering to help with any personal losses that may have occurred.”
August 9, 2018
EDC director speaks to Civic Auditorium issue
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
Vince Netherland of Polk County Economic Development was on hand at Monday night's St. Croix Falls City Council meeting on Monday night to give a presentation on economic development measurements as it related to investing in the Civic Auditorium.
The agenda was rearranged and Netherland spoke prior to the discussion and vote to hold a referendum on the November ballot.
“The priority (of the economic development corporation) was originally to attract businesses here and improve the tax base,” noted Netherland. “The new priority is workers, so that businesses can grow.”
“The importance of the downtown to a community is that it is different than a corridor or suburb,” continued Netherland. “They won't be driving down Highway 8 and looking and thinking what a nice community this is, even though the businesses located there provide important products and services. Image is very important. The mix and diversity and the activities and functions are what make a downtown. A mix of retail, cultural opportunities like a community center, etc., and restaurants are the healthiest mix to have.
“The new battlefield in today's economy is the workforce,” says Netherland. “We want to keep them here and we want to attract more back. To do that you want the downtown to thrive and improve. The potential impact of the Civic Auditorium can impact 20-10 years out. You have to consider the implications of a project like this, or whether or not to spend that money elsewhere.”
Netherland went on to speak about the perceived image of the city as well as the city's 'branding', how visitors, guests and residents would define and describe St. Croix Falls.
One of the things Netherland does is try and help businesses that are interested in moving to the area. There has been a lot of interest expressed by businesses regarding moving to Polk County, especially the south/east from Osceola on outwards.
“The question is what in the area is attractive to them,” observed Netherland. “It's not only the employees, but the management and their families. We're not just recruiting employees, we're recruiting their families too.”
Another consequence Netherland brought forward was the matter of tourism.
“With tourism, you are injecting outside money in. Investing in it (Civic Auditorium) will have direct and indirect impacts,” said Netherland, adding that other cities which have undertook similar projects have been shown to have economic benefits.
“What can a renovated theatre do for a community?” asked Netherland. “If done right it can have a long term effect. The economy is doing so well we are seeing an increased demand (for property) in the eastern/western areas of Polk County.”
Alderwoman Joy Zasadny was the one that originally presented the idea of the referendum to the council and has expressed her disdain on multiple occasions.
“You say choose St. Croix Falls, and this is one of my hangups,” Zasadny stated. “We had the building over 100 years, a theatre group for 26 years and we are not seeing economic development from it. In my mind if we haven't seen it in the past, why would it happen in the future?
“Why is it the cart always gets put before the horse?” asked Zasadny. “A feasibility study was never done or a business plan.”
Alderman Kirk Anderson pointed out that the Centennial Committee, the latest incarnation of the numerous groups of volunteers that have supported the project, do now have a business plan and that whoever uses the facility will be charged fair market rent.
“The building has never been a beautiful landmark, but not everyone would agree with Joy's assessment,” said Anderson, noting that there used to be tour buses that brought people in for shows put on by the Festival Theatre. The tour groups stopped coming due to the state of the theatre not being handicapped accessible with their lack of an elevator as well as the condition of the bathrooms.
“We were told, you fix this and we'll comeback,” continued Anderson. “And they are out there and they are waiting. This has not been financially good for the city the leasing was backwards and it was a dilapidated building. We will get free market rent, there will be no new taxes. That money (in the TIF) will go back to the taxing entities and we will have burned a lot of bridges.”
“The money is disproportionate with the scale of the project,” said Zasadny. “I have a hard time wrapping my head around how this thing could single-handedly turn things around for us.”
Residents in St. Croix Falls will be asked to cast their vote in support of or against the Civic Auditorium project in a referendum this November to coincide with the midterm elections.
August 16, 2018
Robert's Rules of Orders gets bobbed
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
Robert's Rules of Order came under fire at the St. Croix Falls City Council meeting on Monday night when Alderwoman Joy Zasadny broached the subject.
“According to our ordinances, we have the right to suspend Robert's Rules of Order,” observed Zasadny. “I make the motion to suspend them for a year.”
Robert's Rules of Order is the most widely used manual of parliamentary procedure in the United States. It governs the meetings of a diverse range of organizations including: church groups, county commissions, homeowners associations, nonprofit associations, professional societies, school boards, and trade unions that have adopted it as their parliamentary authority.
The procedures prescribed by Robert's Rules were loosely modeled after those used in the United States House of Representatives, with such adaptations as Robert saw fit for use in ordinary societies.
Generally, Robert's Rules of Order is a guide for conducting meetings and making decisions as a group. The purpose of the book is “to enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member's opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.”
The book is designed for use in ordinary society rather than legislative assemblies, and it is the most commonly adopted parliamentary authority among societies in the United States. It is also recognized as “the most widely used reference for meeting procedure and business rules in the English-speaking world.”
The book states that it is “a codification of the present-day general parliamentary law.”
General parliamentary law refers to the common rules and customs for conducting business in organizations and assemblies. It does not refer to statutory legal requirements nor to common-law precedent derived from court judgments. In other words, the book is about procedures for meetings and not about what is legal (it is not a law book).
As a reference, it is designed to answer, as nearly as possible, any question of parliamentary procedure that may arise. The completeness of the book was made so that organizations would not have to write extensive rules for themselves. In addition, members of different organizations could refer to the same book of rules.
“It's not wise to suspend it for a whole year,” replied Mayor Arnie Carlson.
“We break them so often,” stated Zasadny. “Maybe we could avoid future legal issues by doing so.”
The conversation stems from the special meeting that was scheduled last Monday regarding the selection and wording of an advisory referendum on the Civic Auditorium. The meeting had to be canceled because it had been brought back, after it failed, but not by a member of the prevailing side, thus it was in violation of Robert's Rules.
“There are better options,” claimed Zasadny, though she failed to mention what those options may be. “We don't follow them anyway.”
Zasadny asked the council if they were going to make her read the 816 page Robert's Rules of Order book, if the council hoped to follow them.
“It really would be Arnie's job,” noted Zasadny. “Every meeting and every motion we have is improper. It's not an issue until someone calls us on it.”
The motion to suspend Roberts Rules of Order for the period of one year died for lack of a second.
August 28, 2018
City open to sale of field to school
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
About a month ago, Mark Burandt, the Superintendent of St. Croix Falls School District broached the subject about the school possibly purchasing the athletic field from the City to the school board.
With their approval, he approached the city regarding the purchase of the property and made an appearance at the Plan Commission meeting last week.
The Plan Commission did not have an issues with the sale aside from not including the esker in the sale since it is part of the Ice Age Trail, and that respect is paid to the historical preservation of the property.
“There is currently no appetite for the tennis courts,” observed Mayor Arnie Carlson.
“Can we make that a stipulation?” asked Alderwoman Joy Zasadny.
It was noted that they could. However, if the courts were left in the condition that they currently are in there may be some issue.
The head of the public works department stated that he had been in touch with a “tennis court doctor” and sent him several photos, but hasn't gotten a full report back.
It was stated that the covenants of the deal could include aspects to make sure that historical preservation was addressed.
“How protective are deed restrictions and covenants if we can go back and change them?” asked Zasadny, referring to the council's consideration of eliminating a deed restriction on the St. Croix Valley Golf Course so that the St. Croix Regional Medical Center can build a new campus there.
Zasadny also noted that the parcel that is used across the street for parking during games is prime real estate that she would like to see something more done with.
That matter would have to be considered separately, as the school does not lease it, but they do use it and mow it.
“Is there an urgency in taking it off our hands?” inquired Alderman Brent Waak.
“It would be one less thing for the city to deal with,” noted Carlson.
City Clerk Bonita Leggitt noted that there is a question of liability. Right now, both the city and the school carry liability insurance. The question is whose insurance company would pay first, how much and when.
“The school has been a good tenant, there is no pressing timeline,” observed Council President Chris Chelberg. “We can move forward with the language.”
In a motion made by Zasadny and seconded by Waak, the council would have the school have the property surveyed and pay for it, that the covenants should include historic preservation and would stipulate that the property have the same public access as well as for it to remain an athletic field.
Discussions with the school regarding the tennis courts will continue.
September 27, 2018
Business plan for Civic Auditorium presented
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
A conceptual business plan for the Civic Auditorium was presented to the St. Croix Falls City Council at their meeting Monday night.
Falls Chamber of Commerce President Bill Ties was on hand to present the basics of the 30-plus page plan to the council.
Prior to that, during the public comments portion of the meeting resident Doug Brant spoke.
“I see a lot of Festival Theatre people here,” observed Brant. “I see a lot of you at each city council meeting. You need to ask yourself the impact this is going to have on homeowners, the noise, the music. We didn't move out here for that...I find it repulsive that the city council involved our tax dollars. I think they can expect a heck of a big lawsuit.”
Ties presented the plan to the board introducing it as a “30,000 foot view” with real numbers and real estimations, with no additional money from the city, and notes that they were “pretty conservative” when they were drawing up the plan.
The mission statement is as follows: The vision and mission for the Civic Auditorium is to provide a gathering place for residents and visitors to connect with each other through entertainment, performance, culture, civic engagement, arts learning, and shared experiences that expand their personal lives, contribute to strengthening the social fabric of the community, and catalyze economic development.
There are various models in which the Civic Auditorium would operate. The leading idea is for the establishment of a non-profit to run the facility.
Previously, through an agreement with the Festival Theatre, it was a user-run facility, and that did not work well for the city.
The other two options are a commercially run facility or a government run facility.
The Civic Auditorium would have two revenue streams: earned income (through ticketed events, rental activity, arts education, event support and concessions), and contributed income (grants, donations, sponsorships, in-kind goods and services, and memberships).
In the first year, it is projected that the total revenue from all the aforementioned would be $292,552 the expenditures are expected to be $290,000.
Ties informed the council that any additional revenue would go into a reserve fund and if all goes well an endowment could be established to be assured that the Civic Auditorium would survive well into the future.
“What happens should things go belly up?” inquired Mayor Arnie Carlson.
“You will have a $3.5-$6 million building with no debt, you could sell it easily,” noted Ties.
“It strikes me as crazy that they have the foresight to set up reserves and we (the city) has no reserves,” marveled Council President Chris Chelberg. “I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but we don't have a dime for reserves right now.”
Carlson noted that it had previously been determined to let the Centennial Committee work through the end of December to reach their fundraising goal.
It was also noted that the Economic Development Grant for $500,000 had a March deadline, which has already been extended, is unlikely to be extended for another year.
No formal action was taken by the council on the matter.
October 11, 2018