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Willmar City Council continues to gather information and ideas for new city hall

Council discussed city hall and community center needs, along with financing options, during mini-council retreat Monday night

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A new Willmar City Hall and Community Center is being planned for the current community center site, where the city owns five acres. The Willmar City Council discussed the project at Monday's council mini-retreat. File photo / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Several members of the Willmar City Council took part in a tour last week of combined city hall and community center structures in other cities in order to gather ideas for Willmar's similar project, which is set to be constructed on the site of the current Willmar Community Center.

The council discussed the tour, along with ideas how to fund the proposed city hall and community center project, when they met Monday evening during a mini-retreat.

"Each presenter was proud of their building," Councilor Fernando Alvarado said of the tour. "We saw a lot of nice structures."

Willmar is still in the planning stages for the project. On Sept. 2, the council approved the community center site, along with the hiring of a still-to-be-determined construction manager and architect.

Interim City Administrator Brian Gramentz provided the council with information gathered in 2017 and 2018 regarding financing options and a report from Engan Associates about facility needs.

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"This discussion has gone on for many, many years," Gramentz said. "Where do we go from here?"

In 2017, the city approached Springsted Incorporated, now known as Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors, about possible financing tools the city could use to fund large projects, including the city hall and community center. The council Monday night reviewed the memorandum from Springsted.

"No one is waving a magic wand around and suddenly the city hall appears debt free," Gramentz said.

Funding sources Willmar could decide to use include bonding, lease-to-own or using cash on hand to pay for it.

"There is an array of funding mechanisms," Gramentz said. "This is a policy issue for the City Council to make."

Gramentz said with current interest rates, bonding could be a good idea.

"This is a really good time to go into debt," Gramentz said. "The interest is so low."

In the proposed 2020 capital improvement plan, Mayor Marv Calvin put in $8.5 million for the city hall, in addition to the $2 million in local sales tax revenue earmarked for the community center. Calvin said he believed the total, $10.5 million, was on the high side. The hope is the project will cost less, but still be a nice structure.

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"One of the things I heard is we don't want a steel building. I think we can all agree on that," Calvin said.

Councilor Kathy Schwantes, who attended the facilities tour, said she was surprised by how little some cities were able to build for significant amounts of money. She said one combined facility, at a city with fewer employees and a smaller population than Willmar, spent nearly $5 million for its facility.

"$4.9 million doesn't go very far, not as far as I was expecting anyway," Schwantes said.

Many decisions about what will go into the building still need to be made. Councilor Rick Fagerlie asked if Willmar Regional Access Channels would be moving to the new facility, along with the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission which leases space in the current Willmar City Office building.

"I think we need to decide what is going inside it first," Fagerlie said.

The facilities tour gave the councilors some good ideas on how a combined facility could work.

"There is going to be perfect opportunity to share space," Councilor Julie Asmus said.

The report done by Engan last year estimates the city hall should be around 20,000 square feet. That is approximately what it is now. The new structure though would have a more efficient layout, created with input from city staff.

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"I think the 20,000 is a reasonable number," Councilor Shawn Mueske said.

The City Hall Task Force, along with the City Council, will continue to meet and discuss the city hall and community center project. Calvin said the public is always welcome to attend the meetings, as well as listen or watch the meeting recordings.

Public input is still welcome, especially concerning the community center portion of the project, but Calvin reminded the council it would be their decision in the end.

"We were elected to make decisions," Calvin said.

Editor's Note: Story updated to add Springsted Inc's., new name.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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