Future of RTC in limboPublished 11:14am Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Faced with two big decisions about the future of the Regional Treatment Center, the Fergus Falls City Council voted Monday not to decide anything – yet.
But they very nearly did make some decisions, and many members of the assembled crowd murmured their disapproval throughout the night.
After a brief discussion of an environmental assessment worksheet, the council’s talk turned to two other RTC topics: a timeline for demolition of the building and a marketing proposal from Colliers International, the firm recommended to the city by its RTC Marketing task force.
The timeline was addressed first. City Engineer Dan Edwards explained that if the council approved on Monday the current plans and specifications for tearing down all of the main campus besides the central tower and two newer buildings (a private firm has an interest in acquiring them), the advertising for demolition bids could begin on Aug. 20, followed by a four-week bidding process and potential council approval by Oct. 1. The process could also be amended by the council if someone showed interest in some of the buildings during that time.
Edwards said that the demolition process would take 18 months normally – 12 if the contractor worked through the winter, potentially increasing expenses. He reminded the council of the December 2014 “drop-dead date” in which all of the expenses of demolition must be submitted for the state to compensate the city under the terms of its RTC demolition/development grant.
“That’s the ultimate timeline sitting out there,” he said.
At first, it appeared the council might take steps to approve the timeline before even discussing the Colliers plan. When faced with possibly delaying the timeline approval in case anyone showed interest in the property in the next two weeks, Alderman Scott Rachels reminded the council that the bid documents can still be changed and said the demolition plans have already been delayed many times.
“If you’ve got something, get it in, plain and simple,” he said. “We’ve pushed it off long enough.”
During the first part of discussion, many RTC preservation supporters and members of Friends of the Kirkbride stared on in disbelief and disappointment. After Rachels’ comment, task force member Anthony Hicks got up and asked the council to hear the Colliers plan before deciding anything, noting that “if you’re going to expect somebody to market a property that you’re going to take a bid on to demolish,” the effort probably becomes fruitless.
“It kind of makes a mockery of having even a task force put together,” he said, asking the council not to throw away the team’s hard work.
The Colliers proposal is expected to cost about $22,500 – a price many council members agreed was a good one. Though the proposal notes that its typical strategy of marketing to developers takes about a year, it could condense that process into six months given the city’s time crunch. Though City Administrator Mark Sievert said the firm’s marketing strategies appeared similar to those of SalesAmp, a firm the city used to market the property in 2011 (seven parties responded to that effort, with only one coming up with a full proposal), but Hicks insisted that Colliers has a larger network and more resources to bring in multiple parties for a cooperative agreement.
Though the council generally agreed that Colliers’ multi-phase plan to market and come up with redevelopment ideas for the building was a good one, they still had questions about whether there would be enough time. If the council agrees to the Colliers proposal this month, the project timeline would finish in February 2013, with possible negotiations with interested parties potentially taking much longer. Edwards told the council that the latest possible time he would recommend to put out for bids would be March 2013.
“What if we run this to the very last end and then the taxpayers get hooked for bunches of thousands of dollars?” asked Alderman Jay Cichosz.
He added, “Far and away most of the people have said to me, ‘I don’t want to pay for the thing to be demolished; if you let that money go that’s already there for you, that’s the most heinous of the errors.’ And I know that many of you here would not agree with that, and I respect that.”
In the end, the council decided that the Colliers proposal needed more clarification from the source: Dan Peterson, senior associate with the firm. After two withdrawn motions to provisionally accept the proposal, the council eventually voted to invite Peterson to discuss the proposal further as soon as possible, either at the council’s Aug. 20 meeting or at a special meeting to be scheduled before that time.
Midway through the discussion, State Rep. Bud Nornes offered another possible reprieve for the RTC: legislative intervention to push back the December 2014 demolition grant deadline.
“I would be optimistic that if you needed a few extra months or whatever it might be, that we could possibly make that happen,” Nornes said, later adding, “I don’t think that anyone that I work with is very anxious to see this building demoed, from the governor on down.”