NEW ALBANY — For more than one hour New Albany City Attorney Shane Gibson stood before the city council Thursday night and answered 35 questions submitted to him about the proposed move of city hall to the vacant Reisz Furniture building. Many of the questions had been asked before, and many focused on the yearly payment and the added space the city would be acquiring.
Thursday was just a preview of what's to come.
The council plans to take a final vote on whether to move city offices to the Reisz building, which would be developed by Denton Floyd Real Estate Group, on July 2. Gibson will be back to answer more questions then prior to the vote, and provide additional input. The ordinance to use Economic Development Income Tax money for the project passed its first two readings last month by a 5-4 vote.
Several of the questions were submitted to the council during a public input session held recently, while council members also had questions of their own about the plan. Councilman Dan Coffey, who came to Thursday's meeting an opponent of the project, did not have his mind changed by Gibson's presentation. He also doesn't know if the project has the votes to pass.
"A whole lot of people are against it; against the way it was handled," he said.
Council President Al Knable said it was important to have some of the questions answered again and hoped they would be helpful to the council members.
"I hope everyone still has flexibility on this and we're not just going through the motion," he said during Gibson's presentation.
The added costs to the city budget garnered the most discussion Thursday, along with the $750,000 the New Albany Redevelopment Commission spent to secure the property for Denton Floyd. There is also $500,000 allocated in the budget for furnishing and equipment for the building, which would take a year to remodel.
The Reisz building, at 148 E. Main St., has been vacant for years and fallen into a dilapidated state. The agreement calls for Denton Floyd to rehabilitate the building for a new city hall, and the city would pay $570,000 a year for 15 years to pay off the loan. In year 16, the city would take ownership.
Denton Floyd's proposal would include $5.6 million to renovate the 23,000 square-foot building.
Currently the city uses around 7,000 square feet on the third floor of the City-County Building, so space would be tripled if the city moved to the Reisz building. Gibson said only about 14,000 square feet would be usable office space, the rest would be taken up by public space which includes hallways, bathrooms and a new Assembly Room. The city would also not be able to lease any part of the building to a private business.
Gibson said the space would still be less than city halls in surrounding cities. He said Jeffersonville's city hall is 32,000 square feet while Clarksville's is 29,000.
He also said the estimated yearly cost for utilities would be $35,000 and $25,000 for cleaning services. The city currently pays around $200,000 a year for its third floor space.
Gibson said there are no other options for the Reisz building.
"No other developers came forward," he said. "It's a blight on the downtown."
Councilman Scott Blair questioned both the yearly payment of $570,000 and also whether Denton Floyd would receive an historic tax credit once the renovation is completed.
"We are spending a lot of money on space we can't use," Blair said.
"It's still space. You still have to have hallways and public restrooms," Gibson said.
Blair countered by saying the city would still be paying for 23,000 square feet of space.