PRINCETON — Gibson County Redevelopment Commission members asked volunteers with the Fort Branch Community and Teen Center to more fully develop their request for using more than $4 million in Patoka-Union Township tax increment finance revenue to upgrade and expand the facility.
Bill Knapp, a member of the Fort Branch organization that oversees operations of the Fort Branch “Old Gym,” came to the board Monday with a $4,030,000 TIF funding request.
In earlier proposals to Gibson County Commissioners, the costs involved for making improvements to the facility and construction of additional space was estimated at $3.7 million. Gibson County Commissioners endorsed the proposal for consideration by the redevelopment commission without specifying a dollar figure.
Knapp, volunteer Robin Angermeier and architect Kale Calvert of Architecture Design Group of Mount Carmel, Illinois, asked the redevelopment commission for $4,030,000 in TIF funds Monday night.
Knapp said the improvements are a quality of life project that will serve the county’s young people and older adults in uses for weddings, birthday parties, dances, meetings, athletics, as an emergency disaster shelter and other functions. Knapp said the facility will be a complement to the new YMCA planned in the former Lowell school building in Princeton.
Knapp said last month there were only three days that the Fort Branch facility wasn’t in use. The “Fifth Quarter” youth program in the gym serves anywhere from 100 to nearly 400 teens after home athletic events on weekends.
Calvert, who lives in Haubstadt, said he volunteered time for a walk-through to develop a list of upgrades for the old gym, but no designs have been completed yet.
Redevelopment board member Mark Iunghuhn asked Knapp how the organization selected an architect, and Knapp said Gibson County Commissioner Warren Fleetwood, who is a teacher in Mount Carmel, recommended Calvert. Iunghuhn asked about how the group intended to proceed with bids, and offered other questions about the priorities of the project.
Redevelopment commission member Bruce McIntosh asked for more paperwork with priorities and preliminary sketches to study the project. “I find it a little difficult to approve $4 million with a list,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s not a good project, it’s hard to visualize. Would it be possible somehow to come back with some simple sketches, maybe some simple pictures of the building and some priorities of the work?...Is there a way that you can give us more information?” he asked.
Knapp said the board could prioritize where it would start with improvements on the facility, which was constructed in 1938. “It’s a solid building, too good to tear down,” he said. “It does need some renovation and a lot of tender loving care.”
“That process will help your committee finalize and get maybe more of a mindset on where you do want to go with that,” said Iunghuhn. “Sometimes we get so enthused about projects it’s ready, fire, aim,” he mused. “As far as the gist of this project, it’s very hard for me not to approve a project like this, based upon its merits. But the parameters is what we’re trying to reach.”
Fleetwood told the redevelopment commission that county commissioners unanimously voted to approve the project funding as requested. “We felt this project to be one that fits the quality of life descriptors...We saw this as a win-win, in addition to the YMCA project. This kind of project is, I believe, one that is kind of contagious in our county... I think there are some other structures, too, that we might be able to impact in a positive way, such as Mount Olympus Gym and other facilities around this county.”
Redevelopment commission member George Ballard asked Knapp how the facility generates revenue for utilities and maintenance.
Knapp said the board rents the gym for $20 per hour to most groups, although the Fifth Quarter program is not required to pay a rental fee.
“How much time would it take you to come back with some of the things we’ve asked for?” McIntosh asked.
Calvert said the project could be accomplished in phases. “I’m doing this because I care. ADG is not getting paid for this right now. I don’t mind working free for a while, but at some point we do need to have the ability for these guys to be paid.”
“Can it be done in phases over a period of time?” asked Ballard. “We want to make sure we have appropriate pass-through in the TIF district to make sure we can meet our obligations, to make sure we’re going to have the finances to pay for it.”
Jim McDonald, attorney for the redevelopment commission, said the group also needs to discuss financing options while waiting for the TIF funds to become available.
He suggested a phone conference with bond counsel over the next couple of weeks to discuss the financing mechanism.
Fleetwood said county commissioners have recommend the TIF pass-through remain at 40%.
The redevelopment board votes in June on the pass through, and McDonald said the recommendation from commissioners is valuable input. “You (commissioners) know more about what’s (potential TIF projects) out there than we do.”
Redevelopment board member Larry Michel said he believes the proposal is “an outstanding project” and said there’s a strong need for the facility. “I pledge my support for them.”
Fleetwood said he understands the redevelopment board’s request for more illustration and details, but asked commissioners to look at the merits of the project, describing it and other similar projects such as the YMCA as “diamonds in our community, jewels in our community.
“As commissioners who appointed several of you here, I know that when I appointed you, I appointed you because you’re outstanding citizens and a credit to our county,” said Fleetwood. “I would just ask that you look at this and what kind of great impact it’s going to have on our county... think about the impact. ... It’s a win-win, a home-run for everyone involved. I would ask at this time that you put it to a vote for the full amount, seeing as how commissioners sent it to you and requested the full amount for the project.”
“We’re putting it to a vote before the financing?” asked Redevelopment Commission President Phil Young.
McDonald said the board would need to discuss how the funds become available, whether the organization would issue bonds or whether the redevelopment commission would let bids for the work, or whether it would be made as a forgiveable loan. Details such as bridge financing would need to be determined as well, he said. “I just want to make sure everybody’s clear on it,” McDonald said.
“Commissioner Fleetwood, I appreciate your position, and my arm cannot be twisted any farther back on this, but it can be,” Iunghuhn said. “What Mr. McDonald is talking about is not things to put not roadblocks in front of the project. It’s just things that come up in a project that impede or make it better or not better, and a lot of those things are taken care of initially, before earth is turned, by thinking them out.
“...There’s a feeling that there needs to be a little more homework done, so that it really is a successful project,” said Iunghuhn.
Fleetwood said he believes ADG is a well-established firm and that design-bid-build is the safest route for any project. “I feel like that’s the best use of dollars and will get the most for the money,” he said.
Calvert said the next step would be to come up with a preliminary plan that would show a conceptual layout.
“The more preparation you do prior to turning a spade, the less you’re going to have to pay in the end, which adds to the bang for your buck,” Iunghuhn said. “It’s not a negative about the project. It’s approaching it in a manner that you’re going to be happy with.”
Fleetwood said he said in preliminary discussion, the earliest the project could begin or would be in 2022.
“I think you’ve got a good project,” said McIntosh. “I think you’re capable. I’ve got to be honest, you haven’t shown me enough information for me to vote yes for $4 million tonight. I’m asking you to come back in a month or four or six weeks.”
“Your hearts are in the right place, but we need more visual details,” said Young. “Nothing elaborate, and it doesn’t have to be super expensive.”
“I wouldn’t be opposed if you came back and said we need $100,000 to flesh this out for you, and come back three months with the plan. If we fund part of the planning without funding the whole thing, I’m not against doing that,” McIntosh suggested.
Calvert said he would prepare the information free of charge until the project moves forward, so redevelopment board members asked them to return to the board at the 6 p.m. June 14 meeting.
In other business, Owensville Carnegie Library Director Margo English told the board that the library is relinquishing a $100,000 TIF award for a library expansion and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance project, and plans to come back with a new request.
English explained the library board has an opportunity to purchase the former Parrish Consulting buildings on the square across the street from the library for $184,000, which will solve many of the space issues the library faces for programming.
She said the 1917 Carnegie structure will still need ADA compliant bathrooms and an elevator, but acquiring the buildings solves the space issue at less cost than the earlier proposed $900,000 expansion project.
“When I come back I’m hoping to either ask for $184,000or an additional amount to cover more work,” she said. English plans to bring the new proposals to county commissioners for their endorsement, first.
“If everything goes well, then we’ll put you back on the agenda for June meeting,” said Young.
The commission also approved payments of $800 to Old National Wealth Management $800 for a bond and interest payment; $17,950 to Baker Tilly Municipal Wealth Advisors for professional services through April 13; $9,110 to Midwest Mole for the I-69/Ind. 64 sanitary sewer project; $225 to Angie Walden for professional services; $47.78 to the South Gibson Star Times for legal notice; $626,729 to Blankenberger Brothers for the TMMI Lot 4/Maple Tree Drive project; and $21,472 to Beam Longest and Neff for the Ind. 64/I-69 project.