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Willmar City Hall Task Force considers unexpected new site: Fire Station property

WILLMAR -- By the time their meeting was over Thursday, the Willmar City Hall Task Force members found themselves looking at a site that many of them never expected.

Erica Dischino / TribuneThe Willmar City Hall Task Force has become interested in building a new city hall on the same property as the Willmar Fire Station. Preliminary discussions on Thursday suggested putting a new building facing First Street, east of the Willmar Fire Department building visible in the background here.
Erica Dischino / Tribune The Willmar City Hall Task Force has become interested in building a new city hall on the same property as the Willmar Fire Station. Preliminary discussions on Thursday suggested putting a new building facing First Street, east of the Willmar Fire Department building visible in the background here.

WILLMAR - By the time their meeting was over Thursday, the Willmar City Hall Task Force members found themselves looking at a site that many of them never expected.

"I think we are a little surprised about where we are," said Sarah Swedburg, interim Planning and Development Services director for the city.

The task force has become very interested in building a new city hall on the same property as the Willmar Fire Station, along South First Street between Trott Avenue and Minnesota Avenue Southwest.

"I didn't think the Fire Station was going to be on the list at all, period," Councilor Kathy Schwantes said.

As the meeting progressed, the task force found the Fire Station site ticked many of the boxes it had for the location for the new city hall, including visibility, a downtown location, the price of the land and keeping money on the tax rolls.

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The city already owns the land, so there would be no purchase price to budget, and by picking this site, no additional land would be removed from paying taxes to the city.

"This is hitting some high points," Councilor Fernando Alvarado said. "I think we have a lot to digest."

The very preliminary idea for the layout of a city hall on the Fire Station property would have a new building built across the eastern side of the site, facing First Street.

The Fire Station is just one of four sites the task force is still considering. The other three locations are the current site of Willmar City Offices; the location of Christianson CPAs and Consultants at Litchfield Avenue and Fifth Street Southwest; and the old Hardware Hank building on Fifth Street Southwest.

Two sites that were removed from contention were the small parking lot at Becker Avenue and Fifth Street Southwest, across from the Kandiyohi County Courthouse, and Block 25, the old Nelsen Laundry site.

The Becker and Fifth location was pulled because of the size of the site and accessibility. Block 25 was dropped due to the concerns the task force had about working with the owners of the building. Apparently, there are several people involved in the ownership of the building and no consensus on selling price.

"They want to sell, they just don't have a number. They can't come to an agreement," City Administrator Ike Holland said.

Block 25 was a top site for many on the task force, but the decision was made to move on, unless the owners come back as soon as possible with an estimated purchase price.

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"I think there are some long-term issues there. I think we move on," Alvarado said.

The current City Offices site is still being discussed, but there are concerns about the need to temporarily move city staff to other locations if the new building would be built on the footprint of the old one. While the actual dollars might not be high - Holland estimates it would cost about $50,000 for a temporary move - it could add nearly three months to the timeline, along with the public confusion and inconvenience of moving everyone.

"This site is not the site for building," Mayor Marv Calvin said.

The task force members expect the current Willmar City Offices will be demolished no matter what site is chosen, because they don't want to leave an old, empty building in downtown. Holland said the demolition could cost between $120,000 to $220,000.

"That is an expense across the board," Councilor Shawn Mueske said.

Both the Hardware Hank and Christianson site would require significant remodeling, as well as purchase of the property.

Holland said he toured the Christianson building and there was a lot to like about it. However, the oldest part of the building dates back to 1904 and old buildings always have surprises when you remodel them.

"You are going to put a lot of money into that building," Holland said.

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In general, Holland prefers new construction over remodeling.

"It gives you the opportunity to build what you need, to build for the future without any restraints, or very minimal," Holland said.

The task force plans to meet in another two weeks, the date to still be determined, to continue the discussion. They want to keep the momentum going with the project and were proud of all the work they did.

"You did a good job," said Janelle Sommers, administrative assistant for the administrator.

Shelby Lindrud / TribuneThe Willmar City Hall Task Force on Thursday spoke at length about several possible sites for the new city hall. By the end of the meeting, new construction near the Willmar Fire Station had become the favorite of the group.
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune The Willmar City Hall Task Force on Thursday spoke at length about several possible sites for the new city hall. By the end of the meeting, new construction near the Willmar Fire Station had become the favorite of the group.

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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