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Atwater moves up date for decision on Hotel Atwater

ATWATER -- Faced with a sooner-than-expected grant application deadline, the Atwater City Council has agreed to accelerate the pace for deciding whether or not to proceed with a $632,000 renovation of the historic Hotel Atwater.

A community meeting to gain public input and direction will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Community Center. A decision will be made at the council meeting Feb. 17.

Last month, at a community meeting where 50 residents weighed in on the topic, Mayor Bruce Baker said a decision wouldn't be made until April, when he returns from an extended out-of-town absence.

But since that time the council has learned the pre-application for obtaining a Legacy grant is March 8. The final application is due April 12.

The Legacy grant is funded with revenue from the state's new sales tax that dedicates a portion for "heritage" purposes.

Councilman Scott Bjornson said the hotel project could "fall apart" if a council decision is delayed until April.

During the last two years, the city has been awarded two matching grants from the Minnesota Historical Society totaling $130,000. That money is at risk of being lost, however, if the city doesn't decide soon whether or not to move ahead with the project.

A representative from the Minnesota Historical Society has also told the city the hotel project would be a good candidate for receiving a Legacy grant, which does not require a local match.

Natascha Wiener, state architect for the Historical Society, said in a telephone interview that it's critical for the city to make "forward motion" on the project in order to be considered for additional grants.

"It's a great project. They just need to make things happen," Wiener said.

During the council meeting Monday, Councilman Mark Olson said the city's chances of getting a Legacy grant are "next to nothing" if action isn't taken to secure its two existing grants from the Historical Society.

If the public and council agree to take the project to the next step, the city would hire architect Richard Engan to prepare bidding specifications, at an estimated cost of $35,000.

Baker said if the bids stay in the estimated cost range of $632,000, and if additional grants are obtained that will reduce city input, the community will be "happy campers."

He's concerned there may be surprises once contractors start ripping into the building, especially in the roof. "That scares the devil out of me," he said.

If the project ends up costing $200,000 more than expected, the council will have their "heads on the chopping block," said Baker.

Olson said the cost estimate was based on quotes obtained from local contractors.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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