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City Council requesting options for gift offer by Mahanaim

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council voted Monday night to ask City Attorney Rich Ronning to outline the city's options for dealing with the gift offer by Templo Mahanaim Assemblea de Dios of two parcels of land at the site of the congregation's deteriorated church.

The council also asked Ronning for an opinion about setting a precedent if the council accepts the condemned structure at 707 Litchfield Ave. S.W., and asked city staff to prepare reuse and financial plans for the property.

The 88-year-old building had fallen into disrepair and the council on Nov. 16 ordered Mahanaim to either make safety and structural repairs or have the building razed and removed if the owners did not make the repairs.

The church pastor has said the congregation doesn't have the funds to make repairs and said he was authorized to offer the lot on which the church building sits to the city, but the offer didn't include an adjacent parking lot that the congregation wanted to sell in hopes of paying some of the mortgage debt.

But the council rejected the first offer as neither lot is an eligible, buildable parcel in the general business district. Last week, Mahanaim came back with a second offer for both lots.

The offer was discussed Thursday by the Community Development Committee, and the committee recommended the council seek Ronning's opinion on options and prepare financial plans.

Council member Denis Anderson, chairman of the Finance Committee, asked if the plans will have detailed explanation of repair or demolition costs and costs associated with the city holding the property.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said plan must be detailed for the council to make a decision to proceed, including reuse of the property, such as a right-turn lane on Litchfield Avenue as suggested by city staff, and possible sale of any of the land.

The site has been for sale for a couple of years.

Council member Steve Ahmann, who wished the building could have been sold to someone rather than torn down, said the Community Development Committee wanted the Finance Committee to be fully aware.

"That's why the motion was made that we know that it may have an impact on our budget and how we're going to be dealing with the issue depending on the time frame that it proceeds on,'' he said. "It's very important information staff is going to be presenting to us in the future.''

Council member Jim Dokken asked if city Public Works employees could handle removal of asbestos or if the city needs a qualified asbestos abatement firm to remove the material. Schmit said the city is not able to handle the asbestos problem.

Mayor Les Heitke asked Ronning if the mortgage must be resolved first before the city accepts the property.

The church was constructed in 1921 and used as a church until it was bought in 1980 and used as an office by a law firm until the building was bought by Mahanaim in 2001.

Ronning said the original mortgage was approximately $250,000. He didn't know the current balance. But he said if the city accepts and records the property deed without first getting a satisfaction of the mortgage, the city accepts the property with the encumbrance on it.

If the mortgage company is not willing to release the mortgage, then the possibility of accepting the offer is no longer of interest to the city, Ronning said. He said the mortgage company could foreclose.

"But they probably are going to look pretty hard and long before they do that because why foreclose on a property that has asbestos problems and probably should be torn down,'' Ronning said. "At this point they haven't come forth with a satisfaction of their mortgage, either.''

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