RTC outcome not likely to change [UPDATED]Published 11:28am Thursday, November 8, 2012 Updated 11:28am Thursday, November 8, 2012
The changing faces on the city council was welcome news for Friends of the Kirkbride, according to its most vocal leaders.
“We are pleased,” said Maxine Schmidt, who along with her husband, Gene, and countless other supporters, have advocated for its preservation. “Let’s hope (the changes) will mean preserving the Kirkbride and the talk of demolition will stop.”
Hailing the election of Ben Schierer in Ward One, Tim Rundquist in Ward Three and Anthony Hicks in Ward Four, and the re-election of Mayor Hal Leland, Schmidt hopes the city administration will listen to what the people want.
“We’re looking forward to the new people in there,” she said. “(They) are independent thinkers.”
Mark Sievert, city administrator, is familiar with council-elect members Ben Schierer, as he formerly served on the council, and Anthony Hicks, who has served on the Economic Improvement Commission. Both are most likely to seek consensus, Sievert said, based on past experience with both.
“I haven’t talked to them to find out if they have strong leanings one way or the other,” he said, “but I know they are open to a dialogue and will work toward a consensus.”
He doesn’t know Tim Rundquist and couldn’t comment.
The present council members who will continue to serve residents have said through their votes that they are willing to give the search for a developer for the RTC one last shot, but if nothing materializes, they are prepared to move in the direction of demolition.
They represent the majority, Sievert said, adding it is unlikely the three new faces will change much of the direction of previous decisions.
However, they may throw out ideas or make suggestions that offer a new angle to explore, he said, and city staff will bring back research based on those ideas for the council to consider.
Presently, the Kirkbride’s fate is in the hands of Colliers International, a marketing firm that is seeking potential developers. If a developer can’t be found, demolition may be the only option.
The company has plans to greatly increase the building’s marketing visibility, through a website, www.kirkbridemn.com, a mass email, press releases, media contacts and developer network listings. A company report presented to the city council in early October indicated that three parties previously interested in the property as well as a developer from West Virginia, are still interested. The W.Va., developer has spent a couple days researching and exploring the viability of a development project.
The state has set aside approximately $5 million for the city to use for demolition if a viable development project can’t be found.
The grant money expires in 2014, putting the Friends of the Kirkbride at odds with city leaders who don’t want to lose the demolition grant money if redevelopment options aren’t found. However, the process to claim demo reimbursement starts long before the expiration of the grant, Sievert said. The process involves numerous steps that require set time frames, and of course, the actual process for reimbursement can take several months.
“The entire demolition process — from studies, to actual demolition to seeking reimbursement — takes about a year to complete,” he said. “So we have a tight time-frame.”
For Schmidt, the election offers renewed hope that an alternative to demolition can be found.
“With the election, the people have spoken and they want to save the Kirkbride,” said Schmidt. “It is what makes Fergus Falls what it is. We simply must take advantage of the opportunity that is before us.”