Howell County News/ Ron Mendez

Willow Springs votes to spend $100k on dangerous building project

We feel like this money is an investment from the city into a building that we believe is a great asset to our town. -Beverly Hicks
The years-long saga of repairing the dangerous building at the corner of Main and Center Streets may finally have a solution – but not without $100,000 in economic development funds from the City of Willow Springs. 
The meeting
On Monday, Oct. 30, the board of aldermen met in special session to review the most recent repair proposal obtained by the building’s owner, the Willow Springs Community Foundation. 
The presented bid is for a total of $418,735 and is the “most thoroughly prepared bid we have seen,” said City Administrator Beverly Hicks at the meeting last Monday. This work is for “Phase One” of restoring the building and will serve primarily to stabilize the crumbling north wall and replace the roof, essentially resolving the city’s concerns about the danger the structure currently poses to public safety. 
Additional bids and funding will be required to restore the building completely.
In a breakdown provided by Community Foundation Director Dean Aye, WSCF has access to $325,000 to this project. The nonprofit’s board voted to approve the bid in anticipation of receiving approximately $100,000 from the city to fill the gap. 
“We have to have your help to do this,” Aye told the aldermen at the meeting.
Hicks explained to the aldermen they essentially have two choices - (1) “invest in the future” and loan the WSCF economic development funds to help save the building or - (2) foot the bill for demolition services.
“Whatever we do could set a precedent for the future,” Hicks commented.
“It’s my job just to give those options, to bring up those options to [the aldermen], just so that they could make a decision,” Hicks said in a follow up interview Friday. 
Ordinances governing dangerous buildings in Willow Springs could force the demolition of the building. In December, when the building was officially declared dangerous by the board of aldermen, they issued an order to vacate and repair the building. If repairs do not follow, ordinances provide for the city to issue a vacate and demolish order, at the city’s expense. 
“I was a little afraid [the WSCF] would walk away from the project,” Hicks said Friday. “But the Community Foundation has facilitated these programs before, and I really feel Dean [Aye] has done his due diligence to protect every dollar.”
The difference 
This is not the first time an owner of this building has approached the city for financial assistance for repairs. It is, however, the first time the city has said yes. A representative of Main Street Willow Springs, LLC, the building’s former owner, appeared before the board in Dec. 2021. 
“It appears to my organization, the only way that’s going to go forward is through private or municipal funding,” a representative of Main Street Willow Springs said that day, “As a city, we need to decide what we’re going to do one way or the other…I do not think that we can be successful in saving that building unless the City is on board…At this point, it’s all about the money and how do we go about getting it.”
The difference in this situation almost two years later, Hicks said, was the proposal submitted Monday night. 
“This was the first time that I felt like we had something concrete,” she said in Friday’s interview. The difference is there wasn’t ever a plan submitted to us [by Main Street Willow Springs, LLC.] We never had a cost estimate at that time… It was not the city’s place to throw out a number.”
The vote
After withdrawing into a closed session on the legal implications of their decision, the aldermen returned to open session, having voted unanimously to loan $100,000 to the Willow Springs Community Foundation to fund their bid. $50,000 will come from reserve funds, and the remaining $50,000 will come from funds outside the regular municipal budget. The specifics of which pot of money the city will pull from and exactly how and when the WSCF will pay it back are to be determined. 
“I think that when the City uses public funds, we have to be very considerate of the public purpose,” Hicks commented Friday. “This is new for Willow Springs, using public funds for a purpose. It was very important that the council talk about that the purpose it is for and the future of Willow Springs…We feel like this money is an investment from the city into a building that we believe is a great asset to our town. If you see the overall picture, this is an investment into our downtown, which we have been criticized over in the past. This is really, maybe, a way to start.”
The work
Work to stabilize the building could commence within two weeks. There could be boots on the ground before Thanksgiving. 
The main work to be accomplished is stabilizing the north wall and replacing the roof. Initially, a temporary wall will stabilize the structure where bricks are crumbling. In the spring, the exterior walls will be rebricked. 
This bid also includes tuckpointing and interior carpentry work in the basement for stabilization and at the roof level to facilitate the roof replacement. As the workers stabilize the building’s foundation, they will remove or damage sections of the existing sidewalk. The proposal includes the cost of replacing any damaged sidewalks. 
Work is estimated to last approximately 120 days.
Correction: The first version of this story published online incorrectly stated that half of the funds the city will contribute would be a budgeted expense in the 2024 city budget. Hicks clarified that these funds would come from accounts outside the budget funds. 
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