On their minds: City Auditorium

by April Scheinoha

    The future of City Auditorium is on the minds of local residents. At its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 2, the Pennington County Board heard from a Thief River Falls resident who is interested in having City Auditorium named as a national historic site.
    Faye Auchenpaugh asked for permission to apply for a Legacy grant from the Minnesota State Historical Society. If approved, the grant would have paid for an evaluator to seek a nomination for the National Register of Historic Places. Placement on the registry wouldn’t prevent the county from tearing down City Auditorium if it chose to do so, Auchenpaugh said. However, she noted there are a few regulatory safeguards. The grant deadline is Jan. 12.
    Commissioners declined Auchenpaugh’s offer. They noted they are still in the process of doing their due diligence in determining how to proceed with City Auditorium. In the past, commissioners have discussed three options: fixing the building, selling the property or tearing down the building. The Building Committee has been asked to determine various options for the building. Sometime in the near future, County Board plans to hold a public hearing to hear the public’s views on those options.
    Commissioner Cody Hempel had earlier asked the committee to see if it could find a steady use for the building that couldn’t be satisfied by another building in the community. He indicated the County Board wasn’t opposed to keeping it or tearing it down but needed to do its due diligence.
    “I’d love to see that building restored, but it has to be used for something,” said Commissioner Darryl Tveitbakk. He further noted the county would have a hard time bonding to restore the building unless county residents demanded it.
    Auchenpaugh voiced one possibility for the building. She said Peder Engelstad Pioneer Village doesn’t have a good climate-controlled place to store items. Auchenpaugh suggested the lower level of City Auditorium could be used for such a purpose.
    “There are so many possibilities,” Auchenpaugh said about the building.
    The county pays between $20,000 and $30,000 annually to maintain City Auditorium. The county currently leases the building to the Thief River Falls Amateur Hockey Association, Thief River Falls School District, St. Bernard’s Catholic School and the city of Thief River Falls.
    TRFAHA also leases the Old Arena from the county. Commissioners indicated they had no plans to tear that building down since TRFAHA handles many of the necessary items related to that building.
    In the past, commissioners have noted that City Auditorium is in disrepair. The roof and wiring are in poor shape. The building also fails to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If anything were done with the building, the county would also have to pay for asbestos abatement. Commissioner Don Jensen said it is expected to cost $150,000 for the latter item.
    After the justice center is completed, the Human Services Department will move to the courthouse. Parking will be needed for employees and those who conduct business with the Human Services Department, Jensen noted.
    Auchenpaugh responded that the Thief River Falls Downtown Development Association is working hard to make the downtown more viable. She said the last thing the city needs is more parking lots. Auchenpaugh further noted that the downtown will feel gutted and not as welcoming to patrons if an additional parking lot were constructed.
    Commissioners approved a meal reimbursement resolution for county employees traveling outside of the county. As in years past, county employees will be reimbursed up to $15 for breakfast, $20 for a noon meal and $30 for an evening meal if appropriate receipts are provided.
    In the past, employees had to pay the gratuity themselves. Now, employees are able to be reimbursed for the gratuity up to 15 percent if appropriate itemized receipts are provided.
    Commissioners plan to reevaluate the resolution next year to see if there are any issues with the change.
    County Board approved appointing Commissioner Neil Peterson as County Board chairperson for calendar year 2018. In a separate, related motion, Commissioner Bruce Lawrence was appointed as vice chairperson.
    The next County Board meeting is scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 5 p.m. at the Pennington County Courthouse.