Bob Thomas with the Stevensville Community Foundation met with the Stevensville Town Council last week at a Committee of the Whole meeting to talk about a potential partnership with the Town for management of a proposed community center at the corner of Park Avenue and Middle Burnt Fork Road. The community center has been in the works for more than 20 years, but the project has yet to break ground.
The private non-profit Stevensville Community Foundation purchased the 3.54-acre property for $175k in 1999 and was able to pay it off in the next few years. Originally the plan was to create a multiple venue area with a large parking lot located on an adjacent four-acre parcel owned by the school district. In 2000, a five-year lease between the school district and the Foundation was signed but in 2005 the lease was not renewed.
The plan was then scaled back to a “community center only plan” and fundraising continued. The property currently has a cash reserve of approximately $60k.
A handout that Thomas provided to the council states: “…Over 21 years, between several board members, thousands of volunteer hours have been donated for acquisition, management and planning of the community center. Site plans and building mockups were developed, that while providing a great vision, will need to be modified due to time lost and cost…”
“We’re here tonight to discuss shared management,” Thomas told the council. “We’re not here to force you or sell you on this, just to start talking and see what your thoughts are on this.”
One of the stumbling blocks to the project has been that the property is not connected to the Town’s sewer system. Mayor Brandon Dewey said the Town is currently working on extending the sewer line south on Park Street to the edge of the Foundation property, with that project to be completed by late summer. The Foundation will be responsible for getting the sewer line from the property edge to the building site.
“We’re ready,” said Thomas. “We’re working on funding. We’re ready to start planning what this thing is going to look like. Budget is a big deal to us” with an estimated cost of “potentially $1.5 million. I don’t see us breaking ground this year.”
The mayor said the town has a desperate need for a large meeting space and also space for Parks and Recreation activities that can be held indoors. Parks and Rec currently has no indoor space, which limits them to mostly summer activities.
After meeting with Thomas to talk about some type of partnership between the Town and the Foundation, Dewey said he was now bringing it to the council to get their input on whether this was something they wanted to explore.
Thomas said his vision would be that the Town would manage and maintain the facility. “This is yours to schedule, manage and maintain. The whole shooting match,” said Thomas. “You’ve got priority but there would have to be an agreement that the public also can use it. There would have to be user fees because that is how it would be supported.”
Thomas said he doesn’t see the community center as an income producer, but rather as a community asset.
Council member Patrick Shourd wondered who would pay for liability insurance, which Thomas estimated at potentially $700-$800 per month.
Mayor Dewey said the Town has liability insurance but with big events at Lewis & Clark Park, for example, users are required to show proof of their own liability insurance.
Thomas clarified that the Foundation would continue to own the building, and would have their own property insurance, and would probably continue to have their own liability insurance as well. But the Town would probably have liability insurance on the building, too.
Thomas also said that an agreement with the Town would help the Foundation in its fundraising efforts.
Addressing a question from Council member Dempsey Vick about periods of times when the building might not be utilized, Thomas said he believes the facility will be used virtually all the time. “Down times will not be an issue,” he said. Wedding receptions, banquets, classes, meetings, etc. would be possible uses. The mayor said the Parks & Rec department could use the facility as a base for summer youth camps and other youth activities, assuming that demand for programming grows. There could also be after school and/or mentoring programs, he said. “There is education and outreach potential in the community,” said Dewey. He said the Town’s philosophy was that user fees for private groups would subsidize the Town’s uses.
Council consensus was that the partnership should be explored further. Council member Jaime Devlin said she wants to see a clarification of expectations of both partners. Council member Paul Ludington wants to see a list of potential uses.
Mayor Dewey told the Star that he will be meeting with Thomas to “get more details on anticipated use of the building and possible revenue numbers.” Then he’ll make a presentation to the council. A needs assessment will be also be done to gain market research.
Following that the council would be looking at a resolution of intent to partner with the foundation.
“There’s been a ton of work put in on this thing over the years and the community has not seen anything come out of it… Our goal is to get this sucker done,” said Thomas.
The council also considered the possibility of purchasing the Bass Mansion as a means of preserving one of the town’s main historic buildings. The College Street property, currently a private residence, is listed on the National Historic Register. The listing price is $749,000. Devlin said she was concerned that the Town is doing nothing to preserve the historic nature of the downtown and its charm could be lost because people can’t afford to buy these historic properties at the current high prices and then spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix them up.
Council consensus was to not pursue the idea, but instead to have the administration pull together any information on resources that might help future owners of the building.
Victoria Howell can be contacted at [email protected] or 406-207-8793.