RTC preservationists rally as demo deadline approachesPublished 8:55pm Monday, April 30, 2012 Updated 3:47pm Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Supporters of saving the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center came out of the woodwork Monday night during a city council work session – everyone from a coalition of citizens to some private developers to the Minnesota Historical Preservation Society. However, discussion at the meeting indicated that unless an 11th hour event changes matters, the council is still moving forward toward demolishing most of the remaining RTC structures, with bids tentatively set to go out in July.
Close to 40 community members attended the meeting, at least in part due to an effort by Friends of the Kirkbride to get people out to support the RTC’s preservation. Due to time constraints, they were not given a chance to speak, but two other groups were represented loud and clear in the discussion.
On Monday afternoon, the city received a letter from the Minnesota Historical Society questioning whether the state of Minnesota had followed all of the guidelines of the Minnesota Historic Sites Act before it turned the property over to the city. The letter, said advisor on the RTC Kent Mattson, was not immediately clear about what part of the statute might have been ignored, but staff will be looking into it this week. He noted that the state had previously entered a contract with the city for the demolition grant funds, and the city would be looking to see that the agreement was honored.
“We will take serious challenge to a state agency trying to (reverse the arrangement) now,” he said, adding that the goal is to work the situation out cooperatively.
The other supportive group is made up of developers (not organized together) who are still investigating the possibility of buying the RTC property. Former potential developers Atul Wahi and Global Athlete Village have remained in contact with the city, and City Administrator Mark Sievert said that a third developer who had previously submitted a letter of interest regarding the property has inquired about getting involved again.
“Are we open to others between now and whenever the decision is made?” asked Mayor Hal Leland.
“Certainly,” Sievert replied.
Though the efforts to save the building remain, the council also received arguments for tearing the building down. Appraiser Michael Bownik, who has worked with the property for a decade, said that the property has a negative value and stated his belief that it was doubtful a reuse for the building could be found – particularly one that could be sustained by the size of the community. City Engineer Dan Edwards reported the staff recommendation that the city tear down everything on the remaining property besides the center tower structure.
“We think this fits in best with the ability of the community to redevelop property up there,” said Edwards.
If demolition is what the council decides to do, Edwards said the decision should be made at one of the council’s May meetings to stay on schedule. June would be spent preparing bid documents, with the bid process beginning in July. At that point, said Edwards, it would probably be best to stop looking for developers in order to not needlessly put contractors out of time and money working on a bid.
Before then, however, the city is free to keep looking for redevelopment options, and multiple council members spoke in favor of working on a “parallel track.”
“We can still make a (different) decision; we’ve still got until July 1,” said Alderman Scott Rachels.