One more try with RTCPublished 11:04am Tuesday, August 21, 2012
It’s the last chance ever all over again for the Regional Treatment Center.
On Monday night, after more than an hour of conversation, the Fergus Falls City Council narrowly approved (pending legal review) a six-month deal with global brokerage firm Colliers International to market the former state hospital complex to interested developers. It was a 5-3 vote, with aldermen Scott Rachels and Stan and Randy Synstelien casting votes against the proposal.
Under the agreement, Colliers will update the city every 30 days on the progress of marketing. Around half-way through the process (likely at the council’s Dec. 3 meeting), the council will assess the overall progress and decide whether to continue utilizing Colliers or, if there are few to no leads, proceeding with demolition of the structure.
The vote to approve prompted a cheer from the council audience, many of whom were part of the Friends of the Kirkbride group. It was a markedly different response from the crowd, which had previously emitted several disapproving rumblings and produced one speaker who angrily put out the plea for a council member recall.
The majority of the council was won over by Dan Peterson, a senior associate for Colliers who said it was very likely that the firm could generate real interest and potential developers in the six-month timeline – and perhaps much sooner.
“Those things can happen in a very quick time period,” he said.
He added that some of the steps the city has already taken, including past marketing and setting up a request for proposals process, have helped to set Colliers’ task in motion already.
Where some aldermen were uneasy, however, was the question of how long it could take to close on a deal once a potential buyer was located.
“How many deals of this magnitude have you seen done in under a year?” asked Jay Cichosz.
“From start to finish?” replied Peterson. When Cichosz responded in the affirmative, he paused briefly.
“Maybe five, six.”
While Peterson couldn’t give the council an estimation of just how long a closing might take, he noted that nothing would happen if the council didn’t try. He added that the short timeline could be portrayed positively to developers as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a say in the future of a historically important landmark.
His comments weren’t enough to assure Rachels, who asked several questions of Peterson throughout the night. In the end, he stated his belief that the council had already tried similar actions to no avail. He believed the council’s plan to reassess the situation in December would only push the decision back to the next council. City staff have told the council that March 2013 is the last possible time to start demolition work and complete it before the December 2014 deadline to get reimbursement from the state’s demolition grant.
“I’ve always said, this council has to decide on RTC,” Rachels remarked. When he noted his view that the current council has the best knowledge of the situation, he was met by several shouts of “no!” from the crowd.
While a few people spoke from the audience during the discussion (including mayoral candidates John Strauch and Jeffrey McSorley Jr.), the crowd reserved their biggest applause for longtime resident Denise Mauer, who was attending her first city council meeting. Mauer stated that the council was ignoring the wishes and interests of residents, citing the more than 4,200 signatures on a Friends of the Kirkbride petition drive to save the building (a few council members noted that many of the signatures were from people outside of city limits).
“It’s becoming appalling to me to live in a democracy where (at) the city, state, county and national levels, people – ordinary people like you, we think – don’t get their voices heard,” she said. “What kind of democracy is this?”
After further venting her frustration, she added, “We should unite against you. Recall you all!”
The final vote was a close one, with JoEllen Thacker, Eric Shelstad, Jim Fish and Pat Connelly indicating their yes votes ahead of time, and Rachels and Randy Synstelien indicating their no votes.
“Dan, you did your job today In my mind when you said (to) step up or step out,” said Connelly.
After the meeting, Friends of the Kirkbride organizer and RTC Marketing Task Force member Laurie Mullen said she was pleased with the decision. As part of the team who recommended Colliers, she was confident the firm could locate people interested in doing something with the building.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground today,” she said.
Toward the end of the discussion, Cichosz told the crowd that he hopes the Monday vote clarifies the council’s position.
“I hope nobody says again that we don’t care, and all we want to do is demolish everything,” he said. “If it comes December and there is nothing because people are thinking, ‘I can’t get this closed in March’ or whatever, don’t come after me personally. That’s why I voted yes, to give it one last chance.”