Uncertain future for old city hall building

Published on Wed, Oct 17, 2012 by Brandy Kiger

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After months of planning and preparation, renovating and moving, the city government’s transition to the Banner Bank building at 435 Martin Street is finally complete. Now, all that is left is to decide what to do with the old city hall building on H Street. 
City staff have been discussing their options for the old, brick-faced building, and the three most likely are demolition, repurposing or selling. 
“It’s a sick building,” city manager Gary Tomsic said of the city’s old quarters. “One of the primary reasons we moved and bought [the new building] is because it wasn’t a healthy building. The exposed walls in my office were covered with mold. We even had mushrooms growing out of the carpet.”
And while repurposing is on the table, it’s an option Tomsic isn’t ready to pursue, despite inquiries from various organizations around town to utilize the empty space.
“We would not feel comfortable letting anyone use it for any length of time,” Tomsic said. “It’s not healthy, and we don’t have the resources to fix it.” He estimates that more than $1 million in renovations would be necessary to bring the building up to code and make it livable.
Tomsic’s own vision is greater than the city hall building itself, though. He’s looking at the long term needs of the community and planning for the future. 
“We should be looking at that whole block instead of just one building,” he said. “My vision is that it would become a true community center. We need a new library, a new senior center and a new police department.” That kind of vision would require the building to undergo an extreme renovation or be torn down so the property can be used for something more valuable.
“We have a young fellow who has worked for the planning commission and is trying to put together a program where foreign investors could buy the whole block,” Tomsic said. 
“They would purchase the property from the city, and we could use the proceeds and build a new library.” 
The program he referenced is EB-5, which would allow foreign investors to obtain a green card in exchange for commercial investment in the U.S. 
To meet requirements for a green card, foreign nationals must invest between $500,000 and $1 million in an American development project or enterprise and create or preserve jobs for American workers.
As dilapidated as the building is, it’s still hard to see it go. Tomsic acknowledges that if an individual wanted to step forward and donate the funds for renovations, as in the case of Lynden’s old city hall, it would “certainly be something we could look into. It sounds unrealistic, but it’s happened before.”
He hopes that a decision will be made sooner rather than later. “If we wait around, it will just continue to deteriorate,” he said. “The longer the building sits there with no one in it, unheated, and no one taking care of it, the worse it gets.”