Municipal campus to become reality

The City Council listens to a speaker during Monday’s meeting. The board approved the construction of a combined city hall and public safety facility at the site of Northland Mall. From left: Mike Freer, Jim Dufour, Mayor Chris Johnson, Susan Young and Jackie McNamara. (Photo by Clint Riese)

The City Council listens to a speaker during Monday’s meeting. The board approved the construction of a combined city hall and public safety facility at the site of Northland Mall. From left: Mike Freer, Jim Dufour, Mayor Chris Johnson, Susan Young and Jackie McNamara. (Photo by Clint Riese)

Council, EDA approve plan for new city facility at Northland Mall

 

Clint Riese
News Editor

The City of Forest Lake will build a municipal campus on the current site of Northland Mall using a bond issuance of approximately $22 million.

Though the bulk of the details concerning the plan for a city hall and public safety complex surfaced less than two months ago, a series of seven related votes this Monday made the project official.

The Economic Development Authority passed four measures by votes of 6-1, and the City Council followed with a trio of 3-2 votes.

The end result will be the demolition of the northern majority of Northland Mall and the construction of a building that will house a new city hall and stations for the fire and police departments. Construction could begin in late 2013 and wrap up by late 2014. Northland Mall is located at 1432 Lake St. S., just south of County Road 83 (11th Avenue).

Background
The project rode the fast track once it returned to the public eye in November, but the general plan dates to 2011. The concept came before the City Council at a workshop that November. The EDA and City Council began initial negotiations in December of 2011.

The city received an appraisal of $3.1 million for the mostly vacant Northland Mall property this February and spent much of the year in closed-door negotiations with the property owner, Pace Development, Inc., a corporation based in Bemidji. The city attempted to squeeze an extension of a Tax Increment Financing district into state’s omnibus tax bill in the spring but came away empty-handed.

The EDA approved a development agreement on Nov. 1, and a facility needs analysis was presented 12 days later. Also on Nov. 13, the council approved the preparation of lease and financing documents. In the last week of November, the project passed through study by the Planning Commission and the EDA set a bonding proceeds amount of $21 million. Bonding details were reviewed Dec. 10.

New Developments
Monday’s EDA and council meetings had an anticlimactic air, as most board members had made their stances known at prior sessions.

The EDA filed four votes, with Jackie McNamara alone in the minority in each. The action items achieved the following:

• authorization of the issuance of not to exceed $22,500,000 in lease revenue bonds

• termination of the previous development agreement and approval of a revised agreement

• approval of an operating agreement between the EDA, Pace Development and the owner of the adjacent mall and theater on the south end of the property

• approval of a request for proposals (RFP) for architectural services for the municipal campus.

The City Council followed up by approving a resolution authorizing the execution of a lease between the city and EDA. The EDA will own the building and the city will be the tenant. The council also agreed to the revised development agreement and the architectural services RFP. Mike Freer joined McNamara in opposing the three measures.

Some members of each board expressed confusion and frustration about the maximum bonding amount, given that the EDA had discussed the $21 million amount.

That previous discussion, Bruce Kimmel of Ehlers & Associates explained, regarded only the amount of bond proceeds and not any fees related to the issuance.

The termination of the original development was necessary to remove two provisions. The first required the city to demolish its part of the mall by a certain date. The second required Pace to obtain an appraisal of at least $30 per square foot. In recommending approval of the new agreement, City Administrator Aaron Parrish said both developments were beneficial to the city. He reiterated that the changes did not affect Pace’s need to close the deal by Dec. 31 in order to realize a tax benefit.

Next Steps
The RFP was scheduled to go out this Tuesday, Dec. 18. Proposals are due Jan. 7.

A selection committee will review and rank firms in order to make a recommendation. The committee includes Parrish, Fire Chief Gary Sigfrinius, Police Chief Rick Peterson, Councilman Freer, future council member Ben Winnick, and EDA members Blake Roberts and Ray Daninger.

The EDA, with the council’s concurrence, on Jan. 28 is scheduled to select a firm, which in turn will coordinate work with a construction manager.

The design process is estimated to take six to eight months. The city hopes to award a construction contract by late next summer.

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