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City set to sell WeTEC building

After a year of studying various options concerning the future of the WeTEC building, the New Richmond City Council has decided to sell the city-owned, downtown industrial facility.

For much of its 50-year existence, the WeTEC building housed several Doboy/Bosch operations. But in 2009, the company expanded its complex on South Knowles and moved out. The city turned the 43,000-square-foot building into a business incubator facility, offering reasonable rent to growing or new businesses in an effort to stimulate job growth.

At that time, city officials suggested that they might review the future of the WeTEC building concept after three to five years. There was also discussion that the building might be converted for use as the public library or police department offices.

But the police offices moved to a different location last year, and the WeTEC structure was deemed an inappropriate place for the community library.

Last year, city staff recommended that the council sell the downtown building. Instead, the city began a small area study of the downtown to look at the district's future. Among the issues tackled by the study was the future of the WeTEC building.

According to Mike Darrow, city administrator and utilities manager, that study also concluded that the city sell the building.

At a special meeting Monday, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the sale of the WeTEC building to the main tenant in the facility -- Wisconsin Lighting (Loehr Development LLC).

The sale price was set at $225,000, but numerous conditions were also placed on the sale. Among them, current tenants in the building would have to be allowed to stay for at least another year, so new facilities could be found for them.

Also, Wisconsin Lighting would be required to spend a minimum of $150,000 on exterior improvements to the building, not including any roof repairs.

Under the proposed purchase agreement, Wisconsin Lighting would also be required to provide employment for a minimum of 70 full-time employees by 2017. The company currently employs 43, according to Darrow, but expects to expand in the coming years. The 70-employee goal was a number both the city and company agreed to, he added.

If the company does not meet the employment goals, or if it does not complete the required improvements by 2015, or if the company sells the building prior to 2017, the city would collect penalties from Wisconsin Lighting.

Darrow said the city decided to sell the building because it will mean more tax revenue for New Richmond. Between $6,000 and $10,000 a year in taxes will be collected by the city when the property reverts to private ownership, he estimated.

"Plus the city gets out of the property management business," he added.

Darrow said the city hopes to finalize the sale of the WeTEC building by the end of May.