Spring Lake Park council ponders storage space options

by Tim Hennagir
Life Editor

Spring Lake Park city staff recently saw an opportunity when a 16,000 square-foot building on the former Cemstone plant site went on the market.

City Administrator Barbara Nelson, Public Works Director Terry Randall and Police Chief Doug Ebeltoft suggested using the former warehouse for storage.

Mayor Cindy Hansen agreed and called a Feb. 2 council workshop to discuss the city’s potential purchase of the two-acre site at 8502 Central Ave. N.E.

NorthMarq Real Estate Service in Minneapolis is working with Cemstone Products Co. to market the property, which has a listed sale price of $640,000.

Nelson said during the Feb. 2 city council workshop that the city would consider a bond issue of $650,000 to fund the site acquisition.

During the workshop, council members reviewed a letter of intent sent from NorthMarq to Randall and a detailed memo prepared by Ebeltoft that outlined his department’s lack of storage space. Spring Lake Park’s current city building was built 35 years ago.

A police department expansion was built in 1994. Police, public works, code enforcement and vehicles being held for forfeiture are currently being stored outside. Other city departments are running short on space.

“We need to get stuff inside,” Randall said. “We don’t have a place to put anything anymore.”

Nelson added, “This building would be perfect for that [purpose.]”

Councilmember Dale Dahl was adamantly opposed to the Cemstone purchase. The city would be better off getting cost estimates for a new public works and police department storage building on existing city property at 1301 81st Ave. N.E., he said.

Dahl said he and former Mayor Bob Nelson discussed the city’s storage space concerns two years ago.

“When I look at this building, I see a turd,” Dahl said with disgust. “I just see a big maintenance nightmare. All of the paint is peeling and the windows are busted. I don’t want to buy a building our [city] maintenance guys spend 40 hours a week remodeling. I would rather buy new.”

Randall said the city needed to find a way to free up storage space.

Dahl didn’t disagree with that assessment, but he still suggested a smaller storage building would work.

During discussion, council members said they were willing to look into the cost of a brand-new building, prompting Councilmember Barbara Carlson to comment directly about cost.

“If we choose to go for a new building, our citizens will pay more in taxes,” she said. “I think we should make that [point] clear around this table.”

Nelson said other city departments had storage needs. As an example, she mentioned election voting machines, which were being stored in a utility room.

“Let’s look at the real big picture,” Randall said. “We have city hall. We are going to have to do something here someday. Do we want to add another level? Combine the garages? Add on? The really big picture means really big money.”

Nelson said the storage building issue had a 25-year history, dating back to when she and City Attorney Jeff Carson started with the city.

“This building just seemed to be perfect for us,” she said. “We felt, as staff, that it was our duty to bring this forward and talk about it.” According to Hansen, city purchase of the Cemstone property could help jump-start a badly needed redevelopment process.

“In a perfect world, I would like an on-site storage building, too, but I would like us to be more proactive than reactive,” Hansen said. “We need to look at this as an investment opportunity start rebuilding that corner.”

Nelson said city staff’s long-range plans for the existing building included a second-story addition.

Carson addressed vehicle storage issues. “I bet you are losing thousands of dollars a year on forfeiture vehicles,” he said. “They are rotting out from under us.”

In a pre-meeting memo to council, Ebeltoft said forfeited vehicles are currently taken to a towing agency, where they are stored outside and attacked by rodents.

“Numerous attempts have been made to develop some type of fenced storage facility for these vehicles at city hall, but due to a lack of physical area, nothing’s been completed,” he wrote.

Ebeltoft said a large bike inventory in the city garage makes obtaining access to the mezzanine-level weapons cleaning room treacherous.

“What I’m hearing from around the table is everybody is willing to look into a brand-new building,” Nelson said. “We have a closed session on the [Feb. 21] agenda already, but we have to use that session to talk about price or what a purchase agreement would say.”

Carson concurred with Nelson’s assessment.

When the workshop ended, other council members agreed with Dahl’s suggestion the city should continue researching cost estimates for a new building.

City leaders conducted a 25-minute closed session Feb. 6 to discuss possible purchase of the Cemstone warehouse. Carson said no decision was reached during the closed session.

And earlier this week, Nelson said Dahl and Randall were still gathering information and new building cost estimates.

Nelson said she wasn’t sure if the public works and police department storage space and building issue would make the council’s Feb. 21 meeting agenda.

Tim Hennagir is at [email protected]