COTTONWOOD -- The proverbial can of a new city hall for Cottonwood has once again been kicked down the road.
During Tuesday’s work session, Cottonwood City Council decided to table an item directing staff to conduct additional research on the Rough Cuts building on Main Street, outside Old Town. With a vacant seat, council was divided 3-3 on the issue.
The property at Riverfront Commons is currently owned by Northern Arizona Healthcare. NAH bought the property to host some of its own services six years ago, but the building has remained empty. NAH leaders have been trying to work out a reasonable price to sell the property. The cost estimate of purchasing the roughly 30,000-square-foot building is around $2 million, according to staff documents from a March 2018 meeting.
The costs to obtain a more accurate estimate for building renovations would be as much as $50,000, according to Cottonwood City Manager Ron Corbin.
Council has discussed several times over the years the need to consolidate city services into one location and free up the real estate in Old Town for retail space and restaurants.
“I believe if we are going to move forward with a new city hall, whether it be this new building or not, you guys need information,” Corbin said. “I cannot ask the council to consider a consolidation effort or movement effort without a price tag.”
Council Member Deb Althouse said she was worried about where the $50,000 for research would come from. She noted that the money could be used to pay the salary of a new employee.
“My concern is where does this money come from?” she said. “We don’t have money in our reserves to even cover one month. It sounds like if a recession hits … I’m struggling even having this conversation again.”
Vice Mayor Tosca Henry also didn’t feel comfortable authorizing that amount of money for research.
“I was all for additional information but not when it’s not budgeted,” she said. “We are now in February and we don’t know where the money is going to come from. I don’t feel comfortable authorizing up to $50,000 without a concrete source … I am all for getting additional information if it’s part of the next fiscal budget process and it makes sense within the budget as a whole.”
She also felt the funding for research should extend to other options outside Rough Cut.
Council Member Ruben Jauregui said it didn’t make sense to raise the sales tax just to invest in the Rough Cut building.
“I for one don’t think (Rough Cut) is the appropriate place to have our city hall and I think I’ve said this before,” he said.
Another concern Jauregui brought up is the city’s debt, which hovers around $69 million.
“Those are real numbers and if you don’t consider that, I don’t think anything else should be considered,” he said. “To me there’s been an obsession with that building,” he said. “To me it’s a white elephant. I just don’t see that building being appropriate for city hall.”
Kicking the can
Council Member Michael Mathews said he felt that the Rough Cut building is a good deal for the city.
“I feel very strongly 20 years from now, if we don’t do this we’re going to regret it,” he said. “I don’t think we could build a facility today on any of our property that would meet our current needs for this kind of money. We have a huge bonus over there.”
Mathews, who has experience as a real-estate broker, added that he looked at the numbers and that purchasing the facility is doable.
“It’s something that would be good for the future of Cottonwood,” he said.
Corbin said the big reason why Rough Cut is being brought up again is because he can’t guarantee it would be more affordable to build a new building on land the city already owns.
“The prices I’ve seen for new builds are probably higher than the rebuild of this building,” he said. “There was an argument at one point that it’s cheaper to build new than reconfigure but I’m not sure that’s currently true given construction prices, surges in labor and those kinds of things.”
Council Member Doug Hulse said he’d like to put the issue to bed.
“My concern is we’ve been kicking this can down the road for the past 15 to 20 years,” he said. “Whether we need a new city hall or we don’t need a new city hall, where we need to put it and I would like to see the whole issue be put the rest.”
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