cultural center announces a line of credit |

With the offer of a $1 million line of credit and a change in management, the Henry County Cultural Center Board of Directors is once again preparing to seek an extension for a renovation project whose deadline is today.

The Henry County Cultural Center (CCHC), formerly the Napoleon Civic Center Foundation, has purchased the former Napoleon Middle School/Central Elementary School property with the intention of renovating it once the facilities project of the school district was completed and the buildings were no longer used by the district. Part of the purchase agreement with the school district included a clause that, after five years, all parts of the building that did not have a certificate of occupancy would be subject to demolition. An anonymous donor pledged the $547,000 to an escrow account that was set up to cover demolition expenses if needed, but those funds cannot be used for other parts of the project.

The five-year deadline expires today and the nonprofit continues to fundraise for the project but has not started renovations. The cultural center group had requested a two-year extension of the current agreement from the Napoleon Area Schools Board of Education and no action was taken on the request, with a communication from the district indicating that the terms of the contract will remain in effect.

At Monday’s CCHC meeting, Board Vice Chair Patty Wiemken announced that the cultural center had been offered a secured line of credit of up to $1 million from Henry County Bank, to use as needed. Along with the money, pledges, and band grant, this brings the band’s funds to $1.5 million. This still falls short of the most recent renovation estimate for all of the old school except for the east section (the old high school) at $3.1 million.

“With those numbers in mind, we don’t know if it’s enough for the school board to give us an extension because they said we needed to have a significant amount of cash on hand,” Wiemken said. “The bank considers all of our pledges to be cash in hand when supporting it for us.”

Board member Gary Westhoven said he hoped the $1 million line of credit would spark more interest in donating to the project.

“That’s why we were asking for an extension, because it just takes time for people to get their money and their finances where they can,” added Wiemken.

There was also talk of a potential brownfields remediation grant that Napoleon’s city had previously submitted an application for that would use state funding, with a match from the city, to demolish the building. In this scenario, the city would then become the owner of the land and the blocked funds would be returned to the donor. While an agreement had already been reached with the cultural center and the city, the cultural center recently decided to withdraw from the agreement, stating that the majority of voting members are “more interested in restoration than demolition”. and a desire to use all of his available time for fundraising rather than “being locked into demolition.” Last week, City Manager Joel Mazur said the cultural center had asked the city to wait to withdraw the application until the school board’s deadline, so the city would wait until June 15.

The CCHC board previously voted to table the issue of the grant and no action was taken Monday night.

“Since he demolished everything (the building), we were just hesitant to accept that,” Wiemken said.

Wiemken and Westhoven said the council was ready to explore other options with the town – Wiemken adding that one suggestion could be to keep the theater and demolish the rest of the building and the town could have the rest of the land.

“It seems like nothing we’ve explored with the city leaves us with a building,” Westhoven added.

Wiemken will contact the school district to reinitiate discussions regarding a possible extension.

Steve Busch asked if council is prepared, if an extension is not granted, to manage the demolition project.

“You have an offer for the city to take care of that,” Busch said, adding that it would take a long time. “If I was already sitting in your seat, it will just be, again, due diligence to understand that there’s a lot of value in that if the project ends up going in that direction.”

Wiemken said current board members would be responsible should it happen. Westhoven added that LJ Irving Demolition, which had provided the estimate of the amount in the escrow account and which is contracted to carry out the demolition if necessary, offered to keep the demolition price at or below the price originally offered.

After a nearly 1.5-hour closed session that began Monday’s meeting, Wiemken announced that the board has removed Chairman Jeffrey Tonjes from the board, effective immediately.

After the meeting, Wiemken declined to comment further on the decision.

“He did a lot of work for us,” she said. “It was a tough decision.”

Wiemken will serve as interim chairman until further action is taken by the board.

“I am so disappointed in this vote as I have spent many sleepless nights, years and hours to help fulfill the legacy of my mentor, Ken Neuenschwander, but those who know me know that I am a big dreamer, I’m also a realist,” Tonjes said after the meeting. “At the end of my presidency, I was trying to steer CCHC toward a plan B that would protect our angel donor’s investment while ensuring that his money go to something positive for the benefit of the community other than demolishing this magnificent building if the CCHC does not succeed.

In other subjects:

• Wiemken announced that 2020 Molded Plastics has verbally committed monthly donations in an amount to be determined later upon completion of the renovation. “When we finish this project, they will commit to a monthly donation to make sure we can run smoothly… the maintenance bills to get it started,” she said.

•The board accepted Westhoven’s resignation from the board. He indicated that he would remain involved in the project.

•Schedule its next meeting for June 21 at 5:30 p.m. at the Emporium.

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