Investor group proposes Vermillion City Hall plan

Investor group proposes Vermillion City Hall plan By Randy Dockendorf The head of a local investment group announced Tuesday his group has reached an agreement for purchasing the Bank of the West building in downtown Vermillion, opening the way for new options on relocating city hall.

Jon Storm spoke with the Vermillion City Hall Advisory Committee about the investors' plans for the building � including a possible lease or lease-purchase agreement for relocating city hall operations.

"This group has approached and proposed the purchase of the bank, and they agreed to the terms," Storm said, declining to name the investment group or its members.

The advisory committee is looking at four finalists for city hall, which is more than 85 years old. City officials have said the current city hall does not meet safety and accessibility codes as well as the changing needs of city services.

Besides the bank facility, the advisory committee is also looking at construction on the current city hall site or moving to the Fullerton Lumber building or an old armory site on the bluffs at the corner of Market and Kidder streets.

The city council had decided to purchase the former Community First State Bank (CFSB) � which has now become known as Bank of the West � for the new city hall site. However, voters defeated the proposal, with opponents citing the proposed $1.1 million purchase price and especially the $1.1 million projections for remodeling.

The lease or lease-purchase arrangement would allow the city to revisit the bank as a city hall site at a lower cost, Storm said.

"There has been renovation (at the bank) the last three years, about $300,000. A lot of dollars have been spent already," Storm said.

Also, Bank of the West would find a way to sell its current building and move to a smaller facility better meeting its needs � which would allow and encourage the bank to remain in Vermillion, Storm said.

"The bank has excess capacity, and they want out of the building," he said. "They need to dispose of their old building or relocate."

The investors' offer of purchasing the current bank building does not mean Bank of the West wants to leave Vermillion, Storm said.

"People say, if (bank officials) are given an out, they will leave. But that is not their intention," Storm said. "This would help keep Bank of the West in the community. They have a strong desire to stay in the community."

Under the agreement, the furniture, fixtures and equipment would stay in the building, Storm said. Items specific to the bank would be removed from the building.

The monthly lease would depend on needed improvements and other factors, Storm said. "But we can retrofit the building to fit the needs of city hall without spending $1.1 million," he said, referring to the previous proposal.

While city government can lease facilities, questions arose as to whether the City of Vermillion can use its second penny of sales tax for leasing city hall space.

City Finance Officer Mike Carlson, currently serving as interim city manager, said he would need to check further on the laws surrounding the proposed financing. Any decisions would be made by the city council, not the advisory committee.

"You can use the second penny for capital development, which could work if you lease/purchase," he said. "If you strictly lease, I'm not sure if we can tie it in with the second-penny funding."

The City Hall Advisory Committee had heard earlier in the meeting from Owen Mamura, a consultant with Cannon Moss Brygger and Associates, an architectural firm from Sioux City, IA.

Mamura provided input on each of the four finalists, including the bank building. He noted the building offers advantages as a standing building. However, the bank also offers challenges such as three floors, divisions within the building, the need to provide for privacy in rooms, an open atrium in the middle of the building and its long, rectangular shape.

Advisory committee member Jill LeCates said a number of Vermillion residents prefer the bank if renovation costs are lowered.

Regardless of the advisory committee's recommendation, the final selection � including the bank facility � is subject to another voter referendum, said Rich Braunstein, chairman of the advisory committee.

Discussion included whether the city hall selection � particularly a lease or lease-purchase agreement � could be put on the ballot by petition.

Efforts should be maintained to keep the city hall process open and accessible to the public, Braunstein said. "If you insulate this from the referendum process, that would be a disaster," he said.

Braunstein said his advisory committee will not meet its original goal of making a recommendation by Feb. 20. However, Braunstein said he would rather take the extra time to make an informed recommendation based on complete facts.

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