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Moorhead weighs selling Rourke building

The Rourke Art Gallery Museum on Main Avenue in Moorhead needs repairs to fix a leaky roof. (Michael Vosburg/The Forum)1 / 2
The Rourke Art Gallery Museum in downtown Moorhead has had many roof leaks, as shown by these stains around the chimney. (Michael Vosburg/The Forum)2 / 2

MOORHEAD -- After being presented with a plan to fix a leaky roof at the Rourke Art Gallery Museum, some members of the Moorhead City Council wondered aloud if selling the building wouldn't be the best move.

"Perhaps we need to accept a very good offer from someone," said council member Mark Hintermeyer, reacting Monday night to a proposal to spend perhaps $175,000 to replace a leaky roof on what used to be a federal post office before it was acquired by the city in 1966.

The Rourke Art Gallery Museum has leased the building for many years, with the current lease running through 2015.

There is no annual payment, but under lease terms, the museum pays for routine maintenance and improvements inside the building and agrees to make a good-faith effort to contribute to major structural repairs.

City Manager Michael Redlinger, who along with other city staff has recommended replacing the roof, said the museum's potential share of the cost for a new roof could be $52,000.

Several council members, however, joined Hintermeyer on Monday night in asking whether it might make more sense for the city to get rid of the building instead of spend more on it.

"Sounds like a reasonable idea to me," Dan Bohmer said. "Even if we gave it away for a dollar, we'd be ahead of the game."

"I just have to wonder why we're continuing with this," Nancy Otto agreed.

Council members John Rowell and Diane Wray Williams said the museum, like the golf courses and soccer fields the city owns, is an amenity that makes Moorhead attractive.

"I'm aghast at the suggestion the building be sold to the highest bidder," Rowell said, adding that the museum has spent a large amount of its own money to improve the property.

"It's a tenant that's been a good partner," said Rowell, who sits on the museum's board of directors.

The museum at 521 Main Ave. is now doing remodeling work to create a climate-controlled storage area in the attic at an estimated cost of $150,000.

Constructed around 1913, the building is the most beautiful in the metro area, said Jim O'Rourke, the museum's executive director.

"It looks more like an art museum than a post office, which is what it was," said O'Rourke, who hopes the city will team with the museum to supply the building with a roof that doesn't leak.

O'Rourke said with its extensive collection of art from around the world, the museum is the only "encyclopedic" museum between the Twin Cities and the West Coast.

The structure is on the National Register of Historic Places and is itself a treasure, O'Rourke said.

"I would consider it the most beautiful building in Fargo-Moorhead. There's nothing else like it," he said.

The council asked Redlinger to pin down potential costs of various roof options and to look into whether the agreement that transferred the building from the federal government to the city imposes any limits on what can be done with it.