City authorizes negotiation of development agreement for downtown building

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Leavenworth city commissioners have authorized city staff to negotiate a development agreement for a vacant downtown building.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to authorize staff to negotiate an agreement with Darin and Amy Mann regarding the redevelopment of the building located at 600 Cherokee St.

In April, city commissioners approved the purchase of the building for $205,000.

The building, which encompasses more than 12,000 square feet, at one time housed a business called Club Venom but has been vacant for more than 12 years.

After the city purchased the building, proposals were requested from people who were interested in the redeveloping the property.

Last week, commissioners reviewed a proposal from the Manns. This was the only proposal submitted.

The Manns propose that a restaurant or microbrewery could be operated out of the building as well as an additional retail business. The upper level of the building could house two loft apartments.

Citing the anticipated cost of restoring the building, the Manns have asked to purchase the building from the city for $1.

However, City Manager Paul Kramer said Tuesday that there is no agreement at this time regarding the purchase price. He said commissioners were being asked to allow negotiations to begin for the development agreement.

During the meeting, Kramer reviewed various economic incentive tools used by the city government and previous economic development projects that received incentives.

He said the building at 600 Cherokee St. has fallen into disrepair.

"It is on the verge of collapsing at some point," he said.

Kramer said the previous owner of the building had been unwilling to reduce his asking price of $205,000.

Kramer said the estimated cost of rehabilitating the building is between $300,000 and $600,000. He said this made purchasing and redeveloping the building financially infeasible for a developer.

Kramer said the city government may have had to consider court action related to the demolition of the building within two years. He said demolition of the building would have left a vacant lot in the downtown area.

He said the process being followed by the city was the only option for ensuring the building would be put to some future use.

"We do consider return on investment," Kramer said.

The city manger estimated that businesses that could be located in the building in the future could generate sales tax revenue to pay for the city's cost of purchasing the building in 5.5 years.

Michael Bunch, who is a candidate for City Commission, raised concerns about the project during Tuesday's meeting.

He expressed a desire to have assurance that taxpayer dollars are being used for something beneficial.

Mayor Nancy Bauder said this is why the city is negotiating a development agreement for the project.

Commissioner Mark Preisinger said Bunch had sent an email to commissioners in which he questioned who was getting paid under the table.

"It seems pretty shady to me," Bunch said Tuesday.

He expressed concern about $1 being offered for a building that was purchased by the city for $205,000.

"To me as a taxpayer, that's an insult," he said.

Bauder said commissioners are being transparent, and the city manager had provided information about the project.

"We're not doing anything under the table and we're not giving away property, and I take offense to that," she said.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth City Commission:

• Approved an ordinance to create a land bank for the city.

• Approved an ordinance to adopt a new comprehensive plan for the city.

• Reached a consensus to advance an ordinance to vacate a portion of Maple Street. The ordinance will be brought back to commissioners during a future meeting for a final vote.

• Approved the payment of up to $26,668 for a new bus lane at Henry Leavenworth Elementary School. The payment is part of a 50-50 cost share with the Leavenworth public schools. The project is designed to alleviate traffic congestion in the area of the school as parents pick up their children.