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home : news : news Monday, October 23, 2017

4/2/2014 Email this articlePrint this article 
Charlotte residents voice approval of CAAC sale

by Jennifer Reed Murrell

More than 50 residents appeared for last week's public hearing on the proposed sale of the Charlotte Area Activity Center (CAAC) to the Citizens for Charlotte (CFC).

The council was scheduled to vote on the sale of the property at its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 1. Results of the vote were not available before The Observer's press deadline.

Gathering in the center's kitchen area, the Charlotte City Council held the public hearing to field comments and questions from residents about its move to sell the city property to the group of Charlotte residents, who last year formed a limited liability corporation (LLC) to keep the building functioning as a community center.

Mayor Peggy Sellnau introduced resident Mike Jensen of the CFC, who explained how the group developed and what its intended purpose is for the center.

"This is an important time," Jensen began. "This building is at a crossroad (and) we're about moving forward."

Jensen reminded the crowd about the 2012 closing of the center's haunted house, the "single funding source" for the CAAC. Money raised during the event covered operating expenses for the year.

"When that funding source was lost, the city was in a bind," Jensen said.

At that time, he began meeting with residents Abby Tarr and Megan Graves about ways to create a new funding source.

In forming a group, Jensen said its primary goals were to make the venture financially self-sustaining while providing services never previously offered in Charlotte. The group sought a one-year lease to determine the feasibility of the venture.

"Over the last year, we've done everything we said we would do, and then some," he said.

The group opened a fitness center in the gym portion and took over coordination of the city's annual Charlotte Days celebration in August. In addition, the group hosted several summer events to supplement costs associated with leasing the structure. Outlining the CFC's future goals and uses of the property, Jensen referenced the haunted house, noting the school portion of the structure was deemed "condemned" by the city's insurance provider. The insurance provider for the CFC, however, determined that with a degree of work, the area could function as a haunted house again.

Jensen added the CFC would like to make the CAAC less dependent on propane for heating, improve insulation of the gym and incorporate hot water/wood heat. The presentation ended with Jensen offering copies of the CFC's incorporation papers as well as the economic impact the sale of the CAAC would have on the city.

Electrical and heating upgrades were estimated at $12,500 and $18,000, respectively, with job creation estimated at $17,640 in fitness center employee wages.

By taking over the property, the CFC would save the city an estimated $3,000 in grounds care and $1,000 in water and sewer costs.

Majority of audience approves sale

Charlotte resident Larry Ploog was one of two people to speak against the sale. "My main concern is to sell the building and not get the building back should something happen to him (Jensen) or the group," Ploog said.

Ploog said grants from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are available for the city to demolish the old structure and build a new community center in its place.

Several people encouraged the council to sell to the CFC, including resident Dave Rohling who noted he teaches confirmation class in the room the public hearing was taking place.

Rohling approved of the CFC relieving a financial burden for the city.

"I'm glad to see the town doesn't have to take it out of their coffers," he said.

Resident Darlene Lamp said she liked the CFC, but she wanted to see the city retain ownership of the CAAC property and encouraged the council to "look out for the long-term interest of the city. "I'd really like to see a bit more longevity with the CFC," Lamp said, noting "50 percent of all businesses fail within the first five years."

Lamp encouraged the council to take advantage of available DNR funds to demolish the building. "Once they (residents) got over the emotional aspect of tearing down the property, it would be fine," she said.

Heather Jensen, spouse of CFC spokesperson Mike Jensen, asked Ploog and Lamp "where were you guys a year ago when this building was going to close?" Referring to the time her family has spent working to save the CAAC, she asked, "Are you going to take money out of your pocket . . . time away from your family to run these (fitness) classes?"

'Rising up out of the ashes'

Resident Gwen Costello echoed Jensen's support. "The (improvements) that have been done to it over the years don't compare to what's been done within the past year. They are committed to this." Costello's son, Ryan, spoke to the aesthetic appeal of older architecture. "Look at what's happened to this town since I was a little kid," he said, referring to the demolition of many old structures in Charlotte. "I think this is pretty much the last one."

Ryan Costello said as a musician, he spends a lot of time traveling and is saddened by the loss of old structures. "I see these buildings going down and being replaced with some 'bread-box' structure."

Regarding the CFC's work on the CAAC, Ryan Costello said, "It's rising up out of the ashes."

CFC employee Chavon Warner of Charlotte talked about the softball, basketball and volleyball practices as well as the many fitness classes offered. "I've never seen anything negative come out of this building. If it got torn down and got turned into a community center it'd be nothing like it is now."

After the public hearing, the mayor explained the city would have a buy-back option if the CFC venture were unsuccessful. She also spoke to potential concern with the CFC's not-for-profit status. She said Jensen has applied to the IRS to receive a 501(c)(3) tax status and is waiting for a reply. As a result, the group has filed an extension request with the IRS before filing its 2013 taxes.

Council member Perry Lamp gave a final voice to demolishing the structure, noting he'd only recently learned of the DNR program.

"The one thing this city doesn't have is a nice community center," he said.

Fellow council member Kellee Clarke said, "The CFC has done wonderful things for this community at a time when no one else came forward to do so."

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