Weighing the options

Space, cost, security — the discussion about the future of the Marshall Municipal Building is complex

Marshall’s Municipal Building, and the vacant hotel next door, have been at the center of years of discussion for the city council. After a work session earlier this week, council members opted to get more detailed information from architects on possible renovations.


Talk about what, if anything, to do about the condition of Marshall’s city hall building has gone on for years. But settling on a course of action is a more complex process than it might seem. Earlier this week, members of the Marshall City Council continued to weigh options like building purchase and renovation costs, security, space, and other pros and cons at a council work session.

By the session’s end on Tuesday afternoon, council members had voted to get more detailed information on renovating the current city hall building, with the vacant Marshall Hotel property next door. But before they got to that point, they weighed the possibilities for not one, but three potential locations: the current city hall site, the Landmark Mercantile building near the intersection of Main Street and College Drive, and the vacant County Fair supermarket building on Country Club Drive.

Members of the architectural firm Engan Associates presented a side-by-side comparison of the three locations in terms of building space, civic benefits, cost and other factors.

Last year, the city opted to hire Engan Associates to renovate or rebuild city hall. That decision came after months of discussions by a building committee, and after a previous building committee had suggested renovating the building back in 2014.

City hall is faced with multiple building issues, including an outdated boiler, leaking windows and an elevator that isn’t ADA-compliant.

Engan Associates’ original presentation to the city last fall had talked about possibly tearing down the current municipal building and the Marshall Hotel, and building a new city hall in the same spot. But council members said the city needed to look at different options, like moving into an existing vacant building.

In their comparison at the work session, Engan Associates’ top recommendation was to stay with the current Municipal Building and hotel properties.

In terms of space and flexibility, each of the three locations — city hall, the Landmark Mercantile, and the former County Fair — had potential, Engan Associates members said. The current city hall had about 24,000 square feet available, with about 17,000 square feet at the hotel site. The Mercantile building had 26,000 to 38,000 square feet available, depending on if the city also acquired space in the former Atlantic Hotel building. The former County Fair building had more than 30,000 square feet of space, plus ample parking.

However, all three properties also had drawbacks. The current city hall location would need to be renovated while city staff move to temporary offices. Both the County Fair building and space in the Mercantile building would need to be purchased and then renovated.

According to Engan Associates’ comparison, the cost of acquiring and then renovating either the Mercantile or County Fair could possibly mean costs comparable to construction and temporary relocation at the Municipal Building. The comparison included a “theoretical cost” of $5.7 million to renovate the current city hall, $5.36 million to buy and renovate space in the Mercantile building, and $5.7 million to buy and renovate the County Fair building.

Those figures were partly based on assessed values for the Mercantile and County Fair buildings, stressed Marshall City Administrator Sharon Hanson. Actual costs to acquire the buildings could be higher. Engan Associates also stressed that at this point, no actual construction estimates have been made for the project.

“When you look at the total cost, they’re all about the same,” said council member Steven Meister. But, he asked, did that also take into account the cost of making sure each location could handle the computer and technology needs of city offices?

“It’s as apples-to-apples as we can be, given the information we have,” said Barbara Midgarden Marks of Engan Associates.

Other factors — like the civic impact of each location — might be more useful to consider, Midgarden Marks said. If the city offices move into another building, something will still need to be done with the Municipal Building and the former hotel property.

By moving to another building, the city could end up with another property off the tax roll, said city council member James Lozinski.

There would also be some potential security drawbacks if the city offices moved into the Mercantile building, Midgarden Marks and Richard Engan said. The building shares one elevator with other tenants, and there would be areas where members of the public would have to move through shared space.

“The security issue is a big deal,” Meister said.

However, for some council members, the question of cost weighed heavily in the question of what to do with city hall. Council member Glenn Bayerkohler said he wouldn’t want to make a decision without more detailed information.

“We don’t even know what we can acquire the Mercantile building for,” Bayerkohler said.

Both Bayerkohler and Lozinski wanted to know what the listed price for the Mercantile and County Fair buildings was. If the city offices moved into a privately-owned building, it might also be possible for the city to consider a long-term lease, said council member John DeCramer.

Although the discussion was important, Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said it couldn’t continue indefinitely.

“At some point, you have to get to a point of making a decision,” he said.

So far, DeCramer said, there have been three studies done on city hall. “They’ve all come back saying to stay there,” he said.

Ultimately, the council voted 6-1 to have Engan Associates come back with pre-design information on renovating the current Municipal Building site. Bayerkohler, the dissenting vote, said he didn’t have enough information to make a decision at that point.