WCHS nears builidng purchase

Feb. 28 closing set; MnDOT to rent facility as bridge office


It’s the kind of deal that could be called a “win-win” for several local and state agencies.
The Washington County Historical Society is close to buying a vacant office at 1862 Greeley Ave. South for a future new historical center. But before that happens, the society would be a landlord with a deal to rent the Greeley Avenue site to the state Department of Transportation as the St. Croix River Crossing Bridge project office for four years.
WCHS Executive Director Brent Peterson and Washington County Administrator Molly O’Rourke discussed details of the deal to the Board of Commissioners during a workshop Tuesday afternoon.
In late September, commissioners approved a $50,000 pledge to the WCHS toward the building purchase provided the society received nearly $800,000 in matching grants, got support from other county historical groups and had a purchase agreement by June 30.
The county’s pledge would come out of contingency funds, according to O’Rourke.
O’Rourke gave commissioners a copy of a letter she received from a Lake Elmo Bank official on the status of the Greeley building sales negotiations.
“Lake Elmo Bank has conditionally approved the Historical Society’s financing request and we are working diligently to meet their intended closing date of Feb. 28, 2013,” writes bank Vice President Lori V. Johnson.
“They have made some progress on the conditions but not on all of them,” O’Rourke said.
Peterson was more optimistic.
“We’ve been quite successful in meeting the conditions,” he said, adding that the Washington County Historical Network, made up of smaller historical groups, supports the Greeley building purchase.
Peterson said talks about the society buying the Greeley Avenue building accelerated when the building’s current owners reached a 45-month lease agreement with MnDOT. But the current owners thought it would be a good idea for the society to buy the building and assume MnDOT’s lease, Peterson added.
If the WCHS buys the Greeley Avenue site, it would receive about $150,000 a year from MnDOT, or about $600,000 over the life of the lease, according to Peterson. That revenue is in addition to foundation grants and pledges the society has received.
“We’ve actually met the conditions of raising funds,” he said.
Buying the building and allowing MnDOT to lease the space gives the society time to plan its design for the space before renovations start when MnDOT leaves after bridge construction is finished, according to Peterson. He added the deal could open more funding avenues for the society.
“This also opens the building up to pots of other funds, possibly Legacy funds,” he said.
Peterson said the society moved ahead with sale talks because of the timing of the deal.
“This is an opportunity that comes before us and we have to take it,” he said.
Several commissioners indicated they supported the Historical Society’s efforts.
“I support this. I’m fully confident they will meet their funding needs,” said Commissioner Gary Kriesel. “The board has made a determination to supply this funding. To pull this funding now would damage their ability to do this.”
“Protecting our county’s history is part of our county welfare,” added Commissioner Fran Miron. “I think the county needs to be open to reasonable requests for the county’s welfare.”
But Commissioner Autumn Lehrke said she had several concerns about the county pledging money to the Historical Society, especially since the group is not a “core function of county government.”
“I don’t know if my support level would change,” she said.
However, Lehrke said she would support an agreement between the county and Historical Society regarding county records.
“I would be open to paying the Historical Society to keep our records,” she said.
Commissioner Ted Bearth perhaps best summed up the feelings of some at the workshop about the proposed deal.
“This is a one-time thing that we need to move on,” he said. “I think we should schedule this for our agenda and get ready for cake and ice cream.”