By Linda Dillman
The quest for consolidated municipal space in a sprawling building formally housing a Canal Winchester auto museum moved into the legislative phase following a Dec. 16 public meeting.
Up for discussion was an ordinance proposing the $2.4 million purchase of a 23,700 square foot structure sitting on a 1.29 acre site at 45 E. Waterloo St.
Opened in the summer of 2014 by auto dealer Bob McDorman, the auto museum closed in 2016 after McDorman passed away in 2015 and its inventory liquidated in 2017.
If the purchase contract, up for a first reading during the regular council meeting following the public meeting, is approved by Feb. 12, the seller—Alice McDorman—agrees to finance the contract on a 10 year term at four percent interest. The city would make quarterly payments of approximately $73,000.
“This would centralize municipal operations within Old Town of Canal Winchester so they remain in the heart of the community,” said Canal Winchester
Development Director Lucas Haire. “It would provide for a larger public meeting space to allow for more resident engagement. There’s just not enough space in our current environment.”
It was standing room only during the Dec. 16 public meeting as 45 chairs were filled with community members hearing about the details of the proposed agreement.
Haire said the new space would double the number of available seats, while also providing overflow space if necessary, along with expanded office space, meeting rooms, a new community center, security upgrades and potential room for a larger library branch.
“We’re still one of the fastest growing cities in Ohio,” Haire said. “It would provide an expanded area for the community center. When we have heavy rains, that place floods. It’s nearing the end of its useful life.”
Depending on needs, the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department substation could move out of cramped quarters in the basement of Town Hall, 10 N. High St., and occupy the first floor or take over part of the 36 N. High St. municipal building.
Haire said the city looked other locations throughout the years, including sites on North High Street, Groveport Road, Gender Road, and West Waterloo Street, or expanding into Stradley Park. He said none met the needs financially or physically that the McDorman complex provides, even though the city will still need to budget another $2.2 million for renovations.
“We have not discussed nor intend to ask for any debt from the residents,” said Canal Winchester Finance Director Amanda Jackson, who said the contract would be covered by the general fund, with the renovation initially funded by short-term borrowing. “Financially speaking, our general fund is very healthy. Typically we only budget what we think we’ll take in and we’ve done very well.”
Haire said the Canal Winchester Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, currently located at 115 Franklin St., is exploring the idea of relocating to 45 E. Waterloo St.—if the city ends up purchasing the building—as part of an expansion plan. There is approximately 8,000 square feet of available space on the east side of the structure the city planned to initially lease to a tenant complimenting municipal operations.
“I do like the idea of the library being a part of that,” said Canal Winchester City Councilman Mike Walker.
Resident Randy Stemen said larger council chambers and an upgraded community center would be nice, but he also feels the city should first list needs and then set priorities. He questioned why the city is interested in keeping municipal operations downtown.
Former city council member Bobbie Mershon called for another preliminary study of the current municipal building and potential for expansion.
“You are taking a whole block of downtown and creating a space that does not create tax dollars,” said Mershon. “You don’t want to take up such a big footprint with non-tax generating dollars.
Mershon feels the proposed complex is also over-priced. According to Haire, the building was initially listed at $3.2 million. The city’s intent to purchase agreement is $2.4 million.
“I like the overall concept of the building,” Canal Winchester City Councilman Pat Lynch, “but it’s one big piece of an overall puzzle. I want a clear understanding of where the money’s coming from and future expansion.”
While Lynch and Councilman Will Bennett voted against untabling the ordinance and Councilman Bruce Jarvis abstained citing he would not be on the council when final action was taken, the ordinance was untabled by the four remaining council members and moved on for a first reading on the regular agenda at a future meeting.