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City-owned building could be sold

The future of New Richmond's city-owned business incubator building remains in limbo.

The WeTEC building, located along Third Street in the downtown district, has been operated by the city since 2010 when Bosch Packaging Services Inc. vacated the property.

The 38,000-square-foot facility currently houses several small businesses that employ a total of about 35 people.

According to Mike Darrow, city administrator and utilities manager, the original intent of the WeTEC complex was to have a place where small and new businesses can lease cheap office and industrial space to help them get established.

While the incubator concept has worked well, Darrow told the New Richmond City Council at a special meeting July 11, the city continues to spend more money on the building than it makes from leases.

"We anticipate that loss continuing," he said.

As a result, Darrow said city employees recommend that the community consider selling the WeTEC building to a private owner.

If a buyer can be found, the city would likely see new property tax income of between $6,000 and $10,000 a year from the building, Darrow estimated.

If the building is sold, the city also would not be responsible for expensive maintenance and improvement projects, including a new roof estimated to cost about $150,000, Darrow said.

As part of his recommendation to sell, Darrow said any money made from the possible sale of the WeTEC building could be earmarked for economic development programs that could assist existing and new businesses in the city. Among the potential new programs could be a business improvement loan program, seed money for business start-ups and downtown improvement projects, Darrow noted.

Council members seemed to favor the idea of selling the WeTEC complex.

"We're not in the property management business," said Alderperson Jane Hansen.

Alderperson Jim Zajkowski said selling the business made sense, but he wanted to make sure that the city gets a fair price for the property.

Council member Kirk Van Blaircom said he wasn't opposed to selling the building, but suggested that the city first develop a "small area study" to discuss possible redevelopment options for the site.

"I think we could do a little more due diligence here," he said.

If the property was redeveloped instead of remaining as an industrial facility, Van Blaircom said he felt the community would be better served. He noted that a previous proposal for the site (a four-story apartment complex) would have resulted in $50,000 a year in new tax revenue, well above the $6,000 to $10,000 the site would generate if the building remained as it was.

Darrow said city employees would be working on such a study and come up with options for the WeTEC area. The city would be contacting neighbors, historic preservation interests and others to gather ideas on how that portion of downtown could be improved or redeveloped.

Darrow said he will bring back more details about the small area study process at the council's August meeting.