Rhonda Silence

City pauses planning for city hall and liquor store renovations

The renovation of Grand Marais City Hall and the municipal liquor store building has been on the city council’s agenda for many years. A great deal of research has been done regarding what could be done to the aging structure which once housed the Grand Marais fire department and the city jail. It seemed that the city was close to signing a contract with its architects for design work for a new facility at the Wednesday, July 29 council meeting, however, questions over the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on city’s finance has put a halt–at least temporarily–to renovation planning.

The city of Grand Marais has been exploring options for the renovation or removal of the city hall building for several years now. The city first sought developers who may be interested in taking on a reconstruction of city hall and the municipal liquor store, adding retail space and perhaps even lodging, with no success.

The city met with a consultant in liquor store construction for advice and had its engineering firm, LHB, come up with concepts for a renovation. Many different drafts were shared and considered.

At this latest meeting, Councilor Tim Kennedy asked City Administrator Mike Roth if the city still had money in its budget to complete the project with a price tag that has inched toward $6 million.

Administrator Roth reminded the council that the plans had been to finance the work through revenue from the city’s enterprise, the municipal liquor store. Proceeds from the liquor store had been earmarked for future renovation.

However, Roth acknowledged that with the uncertainty of revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he could not guarantee those funds would be there.

Councilor Kelly Swearingen raised concerns about beginning such a project at this time. Swearingen said she felt there were just too many unknowns to proceed.

Councilor Anton Moody, running the meeting as acting mayor, was also reluctant with moving ahead. He noted that the city was just beginning its budget work and planned to meet with department heads. He said the council may have a better picture of finances and how to proceed after those meetings.

Swearingen went on to suggest not just pausing the project as proposed in the latest draft from the engineering firm, but perhaps to scale back on the project entirely. She said perhaps the city should once again look at building a separate, small, city hall on the city’s property on Highway 61 near its maintenance facility.

There was some discussion of a possible move or changes to the reconstruction of city hall at the downtown site. Councilor Tim Kennedy agreed that the council should wait to review finances before proceeding, but reiterated the value of the planning that has been done. His colleagues agreed that the planning that had been done was worthwhile, but as Councilor Anton Moody suggested, it was time to “pump the brakes” on the project.

Councilors agreed to hold off on committing to any sort of contract until more information is available.
WTIP’s Rhonda shares this report on the city hall discussion.