The Finance Committee of Hillsboro City Council voted Thursday night to recommend the purchase of two properties, a storage barn near the Hillsboro Police Department that the city has been leasing for several years, and a structure on Gov. Trimble Place commonly referred to as the “Armintrout building” which would be demolished to create more parking in conjunction with the creation of an uptown plaza.
The total purchase price for both buildings would be $115,000.
At the request of Finance Committee member Bill Alexander, the two items were voted on separately. The recommendation to purchase the storage barn at $50,000 was approved unanimously by Finance Committee chair Dick Donley, Ann Morris and Alexander. The motion to purchase the Armintrout building at $65,000 was approved by a 2-1 vote, with Alexander voting against the recommendation. The recommendations will be considered by the full council at its next meeting on Feb. 8.
A notice announcing Thursday’s committee meeting originally called it a “joint meeting” of the Finance Committee and the Property, Maintenance and Restoration Committee. The latter committee is chaired by Morris and includes Donley and Justin Harsha. All council members were in attendance at Thursday’s session, except for council President Lee Koogler.
But when it came time to vote, Donley said the meeting was of the Finance Committee only, with the Property, Maintenance and Restoration Committee invited for the purpose of providing its input. In fact, at a full council meeting earlier this month, Koogler had placed the matter of the building purchases only into the Finance Committee, he confirmed Friday.
The Armintrout building – so-called because it houses the office of attorney Bill Armintrout – is actually owned by John “Buck” Wilkin, who purchased the property for $62,500. Wilkin also owns the storage barn on Walnut Street near HPD, and the proposal was to purchase both buildings.
While the benefit of additional parking was a reason offered Thursday to purchase and tear down the Armintrout building, the demolition of the building has always been touted by Mayor Drew Hastings and others as an important component toward creating an uptown plaza where Gov. Foraker Place now exists.
In part, the additional eight or nine parking spaces would help offset the loss of parking that is currently available on Gov. Trimble, but which would be lost if the plaza was completed. Tearing down the building would also allow easier access to the alley between the Armintrout building and the Eagles lodge, which would become a more important thoroughfare if the plaza is built, officials have said.
According to a document handed out Thursday with figures that Todd Wilkin, the safety and service director, said were compiled by Hastings, Buck Wilkin paid $62,500 for the Armintrout building and has paid $2,500 in interest since then, for a total purchase price of $65,000.
Initially, the city had considered engaging in a lease-to-purchase deal, which would have included 4.5 percent interest over 10 years for a total cost of $80,838 for the Armintrout building.
As for the storage barn near the police department, which the city has been leasing for five or six years, a similar lease-to-purchase deal at a purchase price of $50,000 would cost the city $62,183 over 10 years, including interest, according to figures presented Thursday.
Donley said that by purchasing both buildings outright at a total price of $115,000, the city would save more than $28,000 in combined interest. Todd Wilkin said he had met recently with Hastings on the subject, and the mayor had indicated that Buck Wilkin would reduce the total selling price by $5,000 if the buildings were purchased together.
Harsha, Alexander and Rebecca Wilkin expressed skepticism about the need to purchase the Armintrout building, saying the cost did not justify creating a relatively small number of parking spaces.
But Donley, Morris, Tracy Aranyos and Claudia Klein argued that the city should do more to bring about changes for the city and promote the uptown area.
Todd Wilkin said he had recently attended a meeting in Cincinnati on the subject of attracting “millennials,” younger adults who are seen by leaders as important to building for the future. He said strategically planning for the future is important to keeping and attracting the millennial generation in towns and cities.
Todd Wilkin said the building purchases would not be an added burden on the city budget, since about $160,000 in funds exist that were earmarked toward more street paving on North East Street before a matching grant was delayed. He said the city budget already includes demolition funds. Donley said he had confirmed that understanding with Gary Lewis, the city auditor.
Todd Wilkin said that if the city bought the Armintrout building and created a parking lot, the lot would be transferred to the city’s Community Improvement Corporation to manage.
Donley and Joe Mahan, the president of the Hillsboro Uptown Business Association, said there is strong support for the uptown plaza.
“I would hate to see this project die,” said Mahan. He said a plaza would provide a venue for events that would benefit the “whole area.” He said the plaza would be a busy venue for a number of activities, including HUBA events.
Donley said the plaza would attract people to the uptown area. He said Hillsboro has been “stagnant” for too long, and it is time “to move off the bubble.” He said money spent now would be recaptured in the next five years.
Morris said council should work to make Hillsboro “the best it can be.”
But Rebecca Wilkin said that buying the Armintrout building “does not seem like a good deal just for parking.” She and Morris disagreed over whether Hillsboro has a parking problem.
Based on discussions Thursday evening, council likely has the votes to approve purchasing the Armintrout building, with Donley, Morris, Klein and Aranyos likely supporting the deal, and Harsha, Wilkin and Alexander likely opposing it. But a 4-3 vote would fall short of the votes needed to suspend the rules and complete the deal immediately, meaning it would have to go through three readings at three separate meetings before the purchase is approved.
Koogler is unlikely to call special council meetings to complete the deal more quickly, so if the measure had three readings at the next regularly scheduled sessions, it would be April before the purchases were approved.
In another matter, Peter Pence, enterprise facilitator for Grow! Highland County, asked the Finance Committee to consider recommending a donation to the Grow organization. He said Greenfield and Leesburg have each pledged $2,500 a year for the next three years. Pence did not request a specific amount from Hillsboro.
Pence, a former council member, said Grow focuses on helping small sole proprietorships start businesses, and said the organization operates on a $40,000 annual budget, most of which is for salary. He said Grow is responsible for three businesses in Hillsboro so far this year. He said one of the businesses the organization helped start in the past is Cowaburger, which he said has been successful enough to open a second location in Mt. Orab.
Council members asked Pence numerous questions about his organization, and discussed how various group such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the county work on similar goals. Council members also discussed the possibility of utilizing the so-called “bed tax” on hotels, some of which supports the Convention and Visitors Bureau, for other entities, including Grow! Highland County.
Todd Wilkin said, “It feels like we’re fielding multiple entities trying to do the same thing,” adding, “it would be better if there was more centralization of effort.”
Pence disagreed, saying Grow is the only organization focusing solely on smaller entrepreneurs.
“I’m working with the individuals, the sole proprietors,” said Pence. He said, “This community was founded on small businesses. It’s hard for the little shops to make it.”
The matter was left in committee, and Donley said members would address the request again.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.