City votes to buy Banner Bank Building

Published on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine City Hall could move into two floors of the Banner Bank building as early as next June.

Blaine City Council voted unanimously Monday night to allow city staff to begin the purchasing process for the $1.76 million building, capping off five months of consideration and discussion by city council members and staff. City manager Gary Tomsic said the cost to construct a comparable building would be at least $4 million in the current market.

Located at the intersection of Martin and 4th streets, the building has a total of 19,520 square feet of office space, 15,610 of which is leasable, Tomsic said. The city will occupy 7,000 square feet of the building, with the city council chambers and municipal court moving to the fourth floor and city staff offices inhabiting the third floor. Space on the fourth floor will also be reserved for community activities.

The fourth floor is currently vacant, while most tenants on the third floor have soon-to-expire leases, Tomsic said. One of the city’s conditions of purchase is that the building’s owner manage the remaining leaseholders and help relocate them if they desire.

Tomsic said the city will spend about $400,000 on installing phone and computer cables and remodeling the fourth floor, though few permanent furnishings will be added. City staff will instead rely on movable additions for the city council chambers and courts. For example, the seating area for the city council members will include a portable raised area that will replace the current chamber’s fixed dais.

“The office space is nicer than we would normally build,” Tomsic said. “It’s the only space like this in the city.”

In addition to more space for city staff, Tomsic said the city will also make money off the building by collecting lease payments from the first and second floor occupants, which include the Banner Bank offices. Tomsic said the rent will bring in $50,000 per year, which will help to cover the building operating costs and the city’s $99,150 per year debt payments on the building.

Blaine’s city government offices need to move out of the current city hall on H Street because the building is seismically unsafe, lacks a building-wide fire sprinkler system and has had long-lasting water leakage problems. Tomsic said the water issues have allowed mold to grow in a few offices in city hall, leading to possible health risks in the future.

“We’ve tried just about everything we could possibly think of, but we can’t figure out how water gets into this building,” Tomsic said. “At one point in time, we had mushrooms growing out of the carpet.”

In addition to building’s physical issues, Tomsic said space is simply too limited to run city government efficiently. Some small offices are shared by two city employees, and the city is paying $1,500 per month in rent to house the planning, community development and code enforcement departments in separate office space. Additionally, the city council chambers are poorly configured for public presentations.

Tomsic said he’s confident the Banner Bank building will give city government offices enough space to effectively do business, and then some. The purchase of the building represents an investment in Blaine’s future and will afford city staff and officials the chance to grow.

“I can’t imagine in my lifetime that we’ll need any more space than we’re [going to occupy] at the Banner Bank building,” Tomsic said.

City staff are expected to finish the purchasing process by February 2012, and Tomsic estimated the start of fourth-floor renovation could begin as early as March. As for the old city hall, Tomsic said the city will likely demolish it at a cost of about $80,000. City staff are in favor of organizing a citizen’s committee to decide what to do with the land under the city hall since selling the building is all but out of the question.

“If it’s not a healthy building for us, then it’s not a healthy building for anyone,” Tomsic said.

Click here to read how Blaine City Council member Alan Black, who retired as council member after the November 28 meeting, was instrumental in the city's purchase of the Banner Bank building.