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City, Chamber near terms on renovation of old liquor store

An agreement that would create a new Perham city meeting room and a Chamber of Commerce headquarters moved closer to reality at an April 14 council meeting.

Perham councilmembers voted to authorize the architecture firm Baker Hogan and Houx to prepare documents and specifications, in order to advertise for bids.

Also, the council authorized Kelcey Klemm, city manager, to proceed with negotiating a lease agreement with the Chamber.

The city hall renovation would transform the lower level, which was the former city liquor store, into a large council chambers and a separate space for the Chamber of Commerce. Construction estimates for the project came in at about $230,000--though most city and Chamber officials believe that it will be considerably lower after the bidding process is completed.

"We're hopeful we can reduce construction cost through contributions by members," said Nick Theroux, Chamber president.

Negotiations have been ongoing for several months between the city and the Chamber.

The Chamber board's latest proposal appeared acceptable to the council. The Chamber would cover the cost of remodeling the Chamber's part of the building, but it would be through a loan from the city's Economic Development Authority. The requested term is 15 years, at an interest rate of four percent.

The Chamber would occupy the building rent-free for those years. The Chamber would share the engineering costs, said Perham Area Chamber of Commerce President Nick Theroux, which have been estimated at $16,000 to $20,000.

Still under negotiation is the $25,000 cost to create public restrooms. The Chamber has asked the city to finance the entire cost of restroom construction, based apparently on the premise that the city has some obligation to provide public facilities.

Theroux explained in an interview, "We want to pay for the remodeling of the Chamber space. We're not interested in paying for auxiliary costs for what the city wants to do, such as the public restrooms."

According to Theroux, the preliminary budgetary estimate for the cost of the restrooms is $25,441. This cost, at one point, was proposed to be split between the city and the Chamber.

Chamber leaders met with Perham City Manager Kelcey Klemm and Mayor Kevin Keil several times throughout the negotiation process.

The Chamber has also been before the city council's committee of the whole in an attempt to arrive at some form of a financial agreement that both parties are satisfied with.

At the April 14 council meeting, all parties appeared ready to move ahead. Councilman Tim Meehl suggested that the Chamber consider paying for 25 percent of the restroom cost. The Chamber, as well as the city, benefits from having restroom facilities available to the public.

Theroux said he couldn't speak for the Chamber board, but he felt they would be open to some compromise on the restroom construction. Also to be determined is how to share the utility costs, because it isn't feasible to meter the Chamber and city's segment of the building separately. A split in the utility cost, based on square footage occupancy, is one option for determining a fair share.

"It seems we're all on the same page," said Mayor Kevin Keil.

In general, Chamber members are pleased with the idea of moving to the new location, which will give the Chamber greater visibility within the community. This move, however, will necessitate that the Chamber sell their existing building.

There is an interested buyer for the present building, and the sale could be finalized within a week, according to Theroux.

"Our agreement with the city would be contingent on the sale of our current building," said Theroux.

If the city and Chamber offices are housed in the same building, many see this as a step forward for the city of Perham.

Councilmember Anita Mycke said that quality public restrooms would be a "huge asset" to downtown Perham, "especially in the summer with the turtle races, parades and other events."

Theroux explained how the move would help foster two of the Chamber's strategic goals. "Our goals are both to promote internal growth with our members and to be a key part of the acquisition of new industry and businesses."

"We do want to help bring people to town," said Nick Anderson, Vice President of the Chamber's Board of Directors. He expressed a desire of the Chamber to assist the city with attracting new businesses to Perham.