Archive for Thursday, March 10, 2005

Historical Society, city exploring public-private partnership

Community Center at the core of talks

March 10, 2005

The Basehor City Council is considering a entering into a partnership with the Basehor Historical Society to build a community center. Officials on both sides acknowledge, however, that, as the saying goes, "the devil is in the details."

"I think it's a good deal, if we can make it work," City Council member Keith Sifford said. "I think it's worthwhile and a venture to be looked into.

"I think it would be a boon to the community. I'd like to see it myself."

At Monday night's council work session, Basehor city officials, Historical Society representatives and members of the public discussed a proposal that would partner the city with an existing Historical Society museum and conference center project slated to be located on 11 acres at the corner of 158th Street and Parallel Road.

Basehor mayor Joseph Scherer said the city was approached by historical society representatives and asked whether the city would be interested in agreeing to a partnership. Scherer said a feasible plan is the historical society donating its land to the city and the city using money generated from the a countywide 1-cent sales tax to secure a loan for the construction costs.

The city would then lease back space to the historical society at a modest rate, something along the lines of a $1 per year for 99 years, so the organization could offer a Basehor museum, Scherer said.

"I think it's a legitimate idea," Scherer said.

"With the commercial (development) that's coming, that tax is going to get very large," the mayor said. He added, "With that guaranteed money, a bank will loan money for this project."

For the last several years, the historical society has been raising funds for the purpose of building a $1.9 million museum and conference center. So far, fund-raising efforts have been sluggish.

Historical Society member Wes Neu said the organization has not been able to acquire state or federal grants for the project and that the organization has raised less than $30,000 total.

As both city officials and historical society members pointed out Monday night, there are still several hurdles to overcome for the project.

While endorsing the idea of a community center, council member John Bonee said it would be difficult for the city to move forward without a more thorough plan to present before the public.

"That's the scary part, the details," Bonee said.

Also, the 1-cent sales tax is not guaranteed to be available. Voters are to decide April 5 whether to renew use of the tax for the next 10 years.

And, money generated by the tax has already been designated for certain public projects.

Scherer said he believed that with an expanded commercial, retail and industrial base, the city could still acquire enough money to meet obligations designated in its public works projects.

Additional money from the tax and a broader economic base could be used to acquire the loan and make payments on that loan for the community center, the mayor said.

Neu, like Bonee, agreed that details still needed to emerge before the Historical Society could enter into an agreement with the city.

"This isn't just yes or no right now," Neu said. He added, "We want some rights, too. . . There's an awful lot of negotiating to be done."

George Smith, president of the Basehor PRIDE organization, said he's looked into acquiring grant money for items such as a community center. He said towns like Burns, population 258, have built first-rate community centers by using grant money to pay for materials and providing their own labor for construction.

"There is grant money out there," Smith said, "it just depends on how you go about getting it."

Discussions are expected to continue in coming weeks and Scherer said community members should contact City Hall with ideas or feedback.

Scherer said an angle the city would explore is finalizing details and putting a desired financing question before the public for a vote.

"Would you vote for it?" Scherer said. "I don't see why citizens would turn this down as a majority. I don't see a downside to this.

"I see it as a win-win situation."

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