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Four lots purchased to improve utilities facilities include Gerry’s Liquor building

Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission has approved the purchase of four lots that include the Gerry’s Liquors property, 810 Litchfield Ave. S.W., as part of a long-range plan to improve the utility’s facilities, efficiency and customer service. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — The Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission has approved the purchase of four lots that include the Gerry’s Liquors store, 810 Litchfield Ave. S.W. The purchase is part of a long-range plan to improve the utility’s facilities, efficiency and customer service.

The long-range plan, approved by the commission several years ago, envisions combining the separate office building and service center building into one facility located between Seventh Street and Ninth Street Southwest and Litchfield Avenue and Benson Avenue Southwest.

Currently, linemen and service trucks operate out of a service center building located at the corner of 10th Street and Benson Avenue Southwest, and the administrative team and staff work out of the office building at Seventh Street and Litchfield Avenue.

They are about a two blocks apart.

As a result, utility employees must commute back and forth to do normal operational requirements, which is highly inefficient, says Utilities General Manager Wesley Hompe. Also, the service center building is inadequate for the needs.

A 2010 facilities study by GLT Architects of St. Cloud identified opportunities that would emerge with co-location of staff. The consultant said the most efficient operational model was one where the service center building and the office staff be located close to each other, possibly even in one structure.

The study suggested the utility could either take advantage of underused property for a new building that would front Litchfield Avenue near downtown, or move to the industrial park.

The commission chose to retain a downtown presence.

“We had direction from the commission at the time: do we want to remain with a presence downtown, and if that’s the case, we try to put facilities near downtown, which ended up being just to the west of the present office building,’’ said Hompe.

He said the commission has been budgeting $100,000 a year to buy property as it becomes available.

Hompe said the utility is not activity pursuing property acquisition. In the case of Gerry’s, the utility was approached by representatives of the Gerald V. Rengel Credit Trust who indicated an interest in selling to the utility.

The owners and the utility entered negotiations. An appraisal was conducted, and a purchase price of $213,000 was reached.

This was the second purchase under the long-range plan. The first was the former Taco John’s drive-up at the corner of Ninth Street and Litchfield Avenue Southwest. The lot is vacant.

Hompe said the Gerry’s purchase will be considered tonight by the Planning Commission, which is required by city charter to approve land purchases by members of the city government.

Hompe said the utility has no immediately plans for demolition. The lower level of the Gerry’s building consists of the liquor store, which Hompe said the utility has no intention of operating, and second-floor housing.

Hompe said the housing will remain, and he’s hoping the commercial space can be leased out until such time as the utility wants to move ahead with expansion plans.

There are still a number of residential buildings and commercial properties in the proposed expansion area.

“A new facility is not an overnight decision,’’ said Hompe. “You have to take advantage of the situation, especially if they contact you and we have it in our plan and the plan has been accepted by the commission for a long-term plan. But if you don’t start planning now, all of a sudden you’re going to be standing there, ‘now what do we do?’ ’’

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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