CC going on the market

by Tom Coombe
An Ely landmark, one that’s listed on the national historic register, is going up for sale.
Earlier this week, Ely council members accepted the recommendation of the city’s historic preservation commission and agreed to engage a commercial real estate agent to put the Community Center building on the market.
Key details, including an asking price, remain to be determined, and council members also asked the historic preservation commission to recommend conditions for any sale.
The move comes more than two years after the building was closed, and with proposals to repurpose the building failing to gain traction.
A proposal to establish a data center in the building also fell through, after a private group failed to move forward following an exclusive one-year window to buy the building.
Celia Domich, who chairs Ely’s HPC, spoke to council members Tuesday and asked the city pursue a private buyer and “hopefully find a good use” for the roughly 80-year-old building that once served as a hub for Ely.
For decades, the building housed Ely’s public library and other offices and had a kitchen/dining area as well as auditorium that were popular for weddings, dances and other functions.
In 2016, the Community Center building was recognized with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but city officials and historic preservation enthusiasts have wrestled with the building’s future.
The building was closed shortly after the library moved to its new building across from City Hall, but the city had committed to heat the building through this year.
It’s uncertain what will come next for the facility, which also suffered signifcant water damage in late-February.
Roof leaks were found and an extensive clean-up operation, covered by insurance, followed.
Since the building closed, those hoping to preserve it have floated numerous ideas for new uses, ranging from an indoor garden facility and apartment units to community meeting, office and kitchen space.
To date, no private interests have stepped forward and the building’s future is in limbo.
At least one council member, Paul Kess, said he’d like to see one caveat for any sale.
“I would hope a potential buyer would be restricted from demolishing the building,” said Kess.
In a related matter, the council accepted another recommendation from the HPC and voted to hire Thomas Zahn of St. Paul to complete a reconnaissance survey of Ely’s historic downtown district.
The $9,500 cost is covered by a grant received by the HPC earlier this year.
According to Domich, Zahn has experience surveying downtown areas in Waseca, Litchfield and Mankato.
In other business, the council:
• Granted Tim Riley a temporary leave of absence from the city’s planning commission.
Riley is working temporarily as the city’s zoning administrator.
• Got word from police chief John Lahtonen that enforcement of the city’s two-hour parking regulation begins this week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
• Passed the second reading of ordinances regulating the storage and disposal of refuse, and allowing lighted advertising signs.
• Tabled a new three-year contract with the union representing Ely police officers. Terms include wage hikes of 2.75 percent both in 2017 and 2018 and 2.5 percent in 2019.
The deal sets hourly wages at $25.04 to $28.24 per hour this year, with step increases at six months, one year and two years experience, and for promotion to sergeant.
Other benefits include longevity pay, shift differential pay and health insurance coverage.