Apr. 12—WILLMAR — Members of the Willmar Rotary Club are being asked to speak to their Willmar City Council members about the proposed city hall project, to urge the council to finally make a decision regarding it.
"It is not being talked about nearly enough," said Kelly TerWisscha, from the Willmar Ten Investors, at Wednesday's meeting of the Rotary Club.
Willmar Ten Investors has approached the city about a proposal to build the merged Willmar City Hall and Willmar Community Center at the former site of JCPenney in the Uptown Willmar mall. While preliminary discussions have been held, there has been little concrete action taken by the council, as the city works to figure out how to pay for a project that is estimated to cost up to $10 million.
"Our council members need to hear from their constituents that they need to make a decision," TerWisscha said. "They need to invest in the city and move something forward; figure out how to make it happen and the right project will come to the surface."
The idea to construct a new city hall has been bounced around for more than 15 years, with the latest attempt having started in January 2018. The council decided to build the facility at the current site of the Willmar Community Center, on North Business Highway 71, across from Robbins Island in September 2019.
However, after JCPenney announced it was closing at the mall, the Willmar Ten group saw an opportunity.
"To us it made so much sense to explore," TerWisscha said.
The idea would be to purchase the 50,000-square-foot JCPenney space and transform it into a city hall and community center facility.
Willmar Ten has done some concept art for the idea, and the group made a presentation to the combined city hall and community task forces and later the City Council in the fall of 2020.
Willmar 10 Investors' p... by West Central Tribune
A presentation was also given to the Willmar Senior Club at the community center, and TerWisscha said club members approved of the scheme.
The council allowed work to continue on the proposal, and staff members have had meetings with Willmar Ten Investors regarding the plan.
"Since then we have made very little progress," TerWisscha said.
The City Council has been struggling with the question of how to pay for not only the city hall project, but also the projects to be financed by the Invest in Willmar local option sales tax.
"They have the cart before the horse a little bit," TerWisscha said.
TerWisscha said the Willmar Ten believes constructing the city hall and community center at the mall would not only be an improvement for city staff and those who use the community center, but could also bring needed economic development to the mall and the area around it.
Whatever route the city decides to take, Willmar Ten Investors feel the decision needs to be made soon.
"There have been many, many issues with the city hall," including floods and ventilation issues, TerWisscha said. "It is not a really great place for the city."
And as the years have passed, those issues are not going away.
"They have to do something," TerWisscha said. "If it was needed 15 years ago, it is really needed today."