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Nisswa council continues discussions about building chamber office

The Nisswa City Council continues to debate whether a new Nisswa Chamber of Commerce office should be part of a public restroom facility the city plans to build on Main Street downtown.

“We will go as slow as needed to get the right information,” mayor Brian Lehman said at the end of a two-plus hour meeting Wednesday, Dec. 12.

After much discussion, the council agreed 4-1 to proceed with a restroom building concept that includes a chamber office, with engineering firm Widseth, Smith, Nolting providing a design proposal.

Council member Lenny Hodgson was opposed because of a potential burden on taxpayers.

The council reiterated that the decision to proceed with a building design that would include a chamber office does not mean it has decided on that option. Council members took this step as a way to obtain firmer, more detailed cost estimates.

The discussion about a chamber office is part of a larger project. The council is considering a 10- or 15-year, $500,000 abatement bond in 2013 to pay for improvements at Nisswa City Park and the Nisswa Community Center, as well as to build a new public restroom facility at the site of the current facility on the Paul Bunyan Trail downtown.

Adding a chamber office could increase the bond amount to $700,000. The council will fine-tune the amount and what the bond would pay for, and a public hearing will be held before the city issues any abatement bond that will lock in projects.

The city has budgeted $57,000 toward a bond payment in 2013, and plans to budget yearly to pay the abatement bond. The council is acting proactively to take advantage of current low-interest rates for future projects, Lehman said.

The chamber previously leased the building along the trail from the city, but the building closed and the chamber temporarily moved to a spot in Nisswa Square in 2011 because the chamber needed more space and an improved building.

The building option the council seeks more information for is proposed to include 1,000 square feet for public restrooms and 1,196 square feet for chamber office space, for a 2,196 total square-foot facility.

Cost is $417,000 (which includes a 10 percent architecture fee), or $495,000, which includes a 10 percent contingency.

Community center improvements are estimated at $109,000, park improvements are estimated at $124,000, and the initial plan for public restrooms had estimates at $260,000, for a total of $493,000.

After considering the need to add chamber office space to the restroom facility, costs escalated, which worried council members. They agree the chamber belongs back downtown by the trail, but don’t like the price tag.

The chamber board sent a memo to council members saying it would commit to a 20-year lease paying $800 to $900 per month for rent.

Over 20 years, that would cover $170,000 to $200,000 depending on the interest rate, Lehman said, noting the city would get its money back.

However, the council prefers a 10-year, or possibly a 15-year, abatement bond, and though the city presumably would get back its investment from the chamber in those 20 years, Hodgson said taxpayers funding the chamber’s share those first 10 years likely wouldn’t see their money back personally.

Plus, the city would take a risk of not having a tenant in the office space if something ever happened to the chamber in the future.

Shawn Hansen, chamber executive director, told the council the chamber wants to be back downtown by the trail, is committed to a lease and is strong and sound.

“It was always our hope that at some point the welcome center would be back along the trail and in the center of the community,” Hansen said.