Council: ‘Explore financing options to repair Veterans Memorial Coliseum’

T-R FILE PHOTO The Veterans Memorial Coliseum has been a State Street fixture since construction was completed March, 1929. The project was funded by a $125,000 bond referendum, approved by voters Nov. 29, 1927, by a three to one margin, according to Times-Republican archives. It was originally known as the Memorial Coliseum. It was re-dedicated as the Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2009.

Discussion about what to do with the historic 91-year old Veterans Memorial Coliseum was a key item Monday night’s regular city council meeting.

Options included using a combination of state and federal funds to renovate it to State Historic Preservation Office guidelines, using a combination of other funding sources for repairs that would not retain some of the historic features of the building, demolishing the structure, or doing nothing.

As background, City Administrator Jessica Kinser told the council the city has a contract with GTG Architects of Des Moines to begin the design of VMC renovations based on a feasibility study.

“We had an issue come up where the State Historical Preservation Office (in Des Moines) has said that by doing it as we have contracted we (the city) would be removing ourselves from any funding where historic preservation

review would be part of the process with what the design has proposed,” Kinser said. “This is the first time we are talking about this, I don’t know if anyone is expecting a decision tonight, we would like to know your (the council’s) thoughts on how you would like to proceed, or if we need to bring it back for another meeting. Whatever, we would like to know where you would like to go with it.”

Kinser comments were immediately followed by those of

Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer.

In her remarks to the council, said should the city want to use certain state funds (Great Places) or any federal funds (Community Development Block Grant) in renovation, SHPO would typically conduct in advance a Section 106 Historic Review.

A favorable Sec. 106 Historic Review to the city would be critical to renovating the VMC.

“The Sec. 106 Historic Review is where the state reviews the plans to see if there is any impact to a historically significant structure,” said Spohnheimer. “Of course we know the VMC is a historical significant structure, a key contributing building within the town’s Historical Preservation District. SHPO officials came to the VMC walked throughout the building with us. They felt they could not issue a favorable Sec. 106 review of no impact.”

SHPO officials indented changes in GTG’s design to the stage, balcony, entrance, and Blue Room, as major sticking points.

Spohnheimer summarized to the council that if the city wishes to use certain state and federal grants for renovation it must look at the project differently.

Consequently, Kinser and Spohnheimer said there were four options.

Option 1: Do what the SHPO recommended – a historic renovation. Doing so gives the city ability to apply for state and federal grants critical to renovation.

“If so, we would have to do a contract amendment with GTG,” Kinser said. “We would have to keep the stage, balcony, and the Blue Room, as well as making significant changes to comply with Americans with Disability Act while making improvements to the second floor.”

Option 2: Spohnheimer told the council that if it did not want to use the state and federal funds mention previously, there were options to use other funding sources such as Tax Increment Financing, Local Option Sales Tax, and applying to local foundations, such as the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation

Option 3: Demolish the building.

Option 4: Do nothing.

Much discussion among councilors followed, the consensus being not to demolishing the VMC or doing nothing. However, they advised staff to consider all options for funding to keep the facility viable.

Councilor At-Large Leon Lamer spoke for the council: “The facility is used daily by many residents, we do not want to go away from this. The VMC’s space is valuable to the community. Let’s take a good hard look at this after the (joint) police and fire building project is completed. (It is scheduled for occupancy in December, 2018).

The next special city council meeting is noon, March 5 in council chambers to discuss the FY 19 budget, which begins July 1, 2018, and ends June 30, 2019. The next regular city council meeting is 5:30 p.m., March 12, in chambers. For complete agenda packets and to subscribe to agenda notices and department news, visit Marshalltown-ia.gov.

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com