The Anoka City Council has decided to purchase a gateway property into the city.
Monday the council approved a purchase agreement for the Carpenter’s Hall, located at 1534 South Ferry Street.
While the decision was unanimous, Councilmember Jeff Weaver abstained from both the discussion and the vote. Weaver owns property nearby the Carpenter’s Hall.
The city will pay $265,000 for the 5,000 square-foot building, which sits on a half-acre site, along the city’s busiest corridor.
“This acquisition would be consistent with the direction of the council and the community we’ve been talking about for a number of years,” said City Manager Tim Cruikshank. “This corridor has been on the radar of the community for many years.”
Councilmember Steve Schmidt said he has been hearing from many of Anoka’s citizens who wish this entrance to Anoka could be cleaned up and the city could reduce the amount of substance abuse treatment facilities that are concentrated along South Ferry Street between the Mississippi River bridge and Main Street.
“It is the one thing they don’t see how we’re ever going to get it done but they wish that we could do it,” said Schmidt. “I see this property as a lynch pin.”
But the city was questioned by several Anoka residents on why they have been buying private property.
“The way the economy is and the talk on the street is this building shouldn’t be purchased,” said resident Russ Holmes. “How many million dollars have you spent in the city of Anoka in the last year? You can’t afford to give your people proper raises yet you go out and buy these buildings. Give it a rest.”
Last month the city also purchased the Wells Fargo drive-through bank property as part of a plan for redevelopment in Anoka’s downtown.
Mayor Phil Rice said the Carpenter’s Hall is of particular interest to the city because it would like to see some changes in that area, which includes straightening out the roadway that leads to Peninsula Point Park.
“That park is seeing 10 times the visitors it was seeing five years ago,” said Rice, who pointed to correcting the roadway and cleaning up the entrance to the city as opportunities that come with buying the property.
“Since I’ve gotten involved in city politics people have complained about the gateway to the city,” he said.
Resident Pat Walker questioned the city’s wisdom in buying the property without a specific plan in place.
According to Planning Director Carolyn Braun, staff is currently working on a planning document that will help the council to decide what it wants to happen along the South Ferry corridor.
“It is not going to be a plan that tells you what to do,” Braun told the council. “It’s going to be a plan in essence that tells you what you need to do so you can figure out what you want to do.”
For Rice, buying the property shouldn’t be contingent on having on plan in place.
“This purchase isn’t really about that plan, this purchase is about the opportunity of that building being for sale and the goal of the council to make changes on the corridor,” he said. “A few years ago we couldn’t have come close to purchasing this building for this price.”
But Walker was critical of the city’s spending.
“It seems like every property has potential and every expenditure is an investment in the community,” he said. “We’re spending an awful lot money seeing that people in 40 years are going to be well off.”
Anoka resident Frank Bodine also questioned the council’s timing on the purchase. He encouraged the council to wait and continue to let the Carpenter’s Hall generate taxes.
“Then there’s no tax revenue coming in and we’ve got that all over town,” said Bodine.
But Schmidt was clear about his concern that another rehab facility would go into the Carpenter’s Hall if the city didn’t step in and buy the property.
“We just do not want to see expanded drug treatment down there,” said Schmidt. “It could be used for any number of things but there are some we don’t want to see.”
Councilmember Mark Freeburg said he is sensitive to the fact that by purchasing the Carpenter’s Hall the city will be taking it off the tax rolls. The 2012 property taxes on the building were just shy of $8,000.
Freeburg said the council must listen to its citizens, but it is also its job to keep the city up to date, vital and functioning.
“If you don’t fix the town up and invest in it people are going to leave, they’re going to move out,” said Freeburg.
He pointed to the corner of Main and Ferry, where a few years ago a vacant and dilapidated Burger King sat. He said the council listened to the community and bought the property to fix the problem.
“Now you have two success stories there,” said Freeburg.
Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]