The Pine City Council met for a special session on May 31 in an attempt to discuss the future of the old courthouse.
The City bought the building at 315 Main Street back from Pine County for $1 in 2020. Since then, they have been agonizing over what to do next.
The vision presented by Administrator Scott Hildebrand involved turning it into a not-for-profit center with the city only using one-sixth of the building, which equals the City of Pine City using one-half of one floor in the building. The other portion would be left for non-profits within Pine City to rent if they wanted.
“When you look around downtown, there are still not-for-profits that use space downtown. If they move to this building, then they are giving up some retail space. You can bring in some extra retail growth that can help with the further economic expansion,” Hildebrand told the council.
A previous estimate for a total remodel of the building ranged between $7.5 and 8 million. Last year, the city purchased a section of the building at 1015 Hillside Ave. SW due to extensive work needing to be done on the old courthouse to bring it back up to code.
Hildebrand said getting the HVAC and sprinkler systems up to date would be a costly project in itself. It is estimated to cost around upwards of $2.5 million, but once it's done, the city could move on to the next phases of the improvement project and offer rental space for local organizations.
Hildebrand presenting a list of ideas to the council
Councilmember Kyle Palmer questioned the decision to make the remaining space available to not-for-profit organizations.
“If we are putting this amount of money into the building, it could be in better shape than some of the buildings you talked about throughout the city,” Palmer said. “It might draw in businesses to work here and they might be interested if the city is going to be a partner to come in and make more of an investment.”
Mayor Carl Pederson agreed with Palmer’s idea.
“That’s something that we have been brainstorming and making some calls,” Hildebrand said in response to Palmer. “If someone wants to knock on my door, we will absolutely run with that idea, but we have not found it.”
A marathon plan was presented that involved the City potentially hiring a lobbyist and getting the project approved as part of the State’s bonding bill in 2025.
“The council needs a long-term plan,” Hildebrand says. “This isn’t something that is going to happen within a year. This is something the council needs to make a decision that it’s something we want for our community and we are in it for the long haul.”
Palmer said that he was for the marathon plan, but he thought that they need to get something done sooner rather than later.
“We got things that need to be fixed now like the boiler, HVAC, and the sprinkler system. That’s a large amount of money up front. If we start tearing into this building, what else are we going to find in the walls?” Palmer said.
Mayor Pederson suggested the city dip into some of its savings to help cover the two and a half million dollars, so they can complete the crucial improvements and bring the building up to code.
“We do have some ARPA money. We do have undelegated fund balance to help cover that two million dollar cost. How we cover the rest of it? That’s the question,” Pederson said.
His goal was to use the city’s savings to try and offset any loans needed to pay for the first phase of work.
Palmer suggested taking the final decision out of the city’s hands through a referendum vote for the community to decide if they should move forward. However, councilmember Dave Hill was apprehensive about taking it to a vote, despite being in favor of the idea, because he felt the city doesn’t have a plan beyond updates to HVAC and the sprinkler system.
“We don’t know if it's going to be not-for-profit, or if it's going to be for-profit. We don’t know what the design is,” Hill said.
“I think we do. We do have a lot of that figured out,” Mayor Pederson said in response. “Some space would be designed to be built as someone wanted it. We need to put the bones in, and we need to build out our space. The rest of it, we need to lobby for public, private, or non-profit to come into the building, and they can build it out.”
No official decision was made during the work session on May 31st. The council is expected to continue discussions on the project during future meetings.