ELY – The Ely Community Center Foundation formally introduced itself to the Ely City Council this week in the hope of forging a cooperative spirit in transitioning the landmark from public to private ownership.
“We see the Community Center as a vital part of Ely’s future,” said Rev. Dr. Jo Campe, Chairman of the ECCF Board, “and we have a vision on how we can make that happen.”
Other board members include Ely residents Pat Koski, Peter Schuler, Cecelia Rolando, Dr. Karen Pajari, Celia Domich and Paul Kess.
They presented a timeline of needs to be completed as the city moves away from maintaining the building once the library is moved to a new facility by the end of this year.
The city of Ely has agreed to keep the heat on and maintain the building for approximately three years after the library vacates the premises.
Campe stated the foundation’s vision. “Our vision is that the city’s Community Center Foundation will develop and implement a course of action to revitalize, manage and maintain the CC for the benefit of the community as a whole.”
The ECCF hopes to meet with a city negotiating committee as soon as possible to develop a contract with the city of Ely. If approved, the group will begin work to keep existing tenants in place and to develop a detailed business plan and capital improvement plan.
Campe said the next steps will be the continuation of analyzing various reports from architects and engineers for the restoration of the building.
“We hope to be a funnel for possibilities for the future of this building,” Campe said. “We would like to be the people that you or others direct to us what their thoughts are (about the building), and their plans and ideas, so that we can spend some time examining the things that are important and that they conform to the vision that we have for the future and then come to you (city council) ultimately with what we think makes viable and economic sense.”
Council member Jerome Debeltz asked Campe if anyone on the board has expertise in writing grants for funds that will help restore the building.
“We would be looking to other people who will be able to help with that,” Campe said. He anticipates many types of grants could be available.
Mayor Ross Petersen wondered why the ECCF can’t start on their projects now even as the negotiating committee prepares to meet with the group to formulate a contract. “How much longer we will have city-ownership is hard to say,” he said. The only thing that will be different is ownership and maintenance responsibility. While we’re negotiating, we shouldn’t have to put everything on hold.”
The Boreal Ballet group, which uses the third floor of the CC for its program throughout the school year, came to the council Tuesday night wondering if they should even have a program this year in light of the impending transition at the CC.
“Go ahead and get started while negotiations are going on,” Petersen said.
“That’s good to hear,” countered council member and ECCF Foundation member Paul Kess. “What I think we need is a more formal agreement. We literally right now have no authority to do anything in that building. We can work on the city’s behalf and bring ideas back but we would hope to have a speedy transition to a contract and management (agreement).”
Petersen answered, “I don’t see, if somebody came up with a good idea, why you couldn’t bring it to the council right away. It might take us three months to negotiate a contract.”
Council member Warren Nikkola said, “I would gladly say that it’s (Community Center) yours tomorrow, but realistically this will take some time. Until the foundation has its business plan done and knows how to plug all these good ideas in to make the whole thing work, (a contract) is not going to be worth a hill of beans. They have to get their business plan first.” He didn’t think the contract negotiation would take much time.
There will be three members of the City Council on the negotiating committee. The ECCF has not yet determined who they will have on their side of negotiations.
The city’s economic director, John Fedo, provided some good news. “We have an opportunity to assist a new business in Ely,” he said during the Ely Economic Development Authority meeting just prior to the council meeting.
John Ott, of Alley A Realty, Columbia, Mo., has expressed an interest in redeveloping the Salerno Building and adjacent State Theater buildings at the corner of Third Avenue East and Sheridan Street.
According to their web page, Alley A Realty “is a commercial real estate development company that is committed to renovating and developing properties to create a vibrant downtown. They focus on restoring properties with a goal of preserving history for the future. Their goal is a thriving creative community full of artists, entrepreneurs, businesses and restaurants that help make downtown a great place to live, work, play and create.”
Ott has been a longtime seasonal resident in the area.
The properties are currently in tax forfeiture with St. Louis County. County Commissioner Mike Forsman has helped facilitate the acquisition of those properties, Fedo said.
“These buildings are currently in very difficult condition, to say the least,” Fedo said, “including water damage and mold and a whole array of different issues. If these buildings go though another winter, the question becomes one of if these buildings will ever be salvaged and down the line we’ll be looking for a grant to tear it down rather than an opportunity to redevelop it.”
“We’ve been asked to help facilitate the acquisition of the buildings and to do it a timely way though the EEDA,” he said. He explained that the city would ask the county to acquire the two properties from the tax forfeiture list and in turn they would then be acquired by the developer. “The idea is to do this in a timely way so improvements can be made, hopefully before the snow flies,” he said.
The EEDA directed Fedo to move forward on the project.