Coalition needs a phased approach

Pam Monson

    The Wilmington Coalition for a Healthy Community would need to take a three-phase approach to turning the old police station on North Main Street into offices, a meeting area and teen activity center, which would allow it time to raise funds while benefiting from the use of the building.
    The coalition currently operates out of a storefront in Winchester Green Center, and the city pays its monthly rent as its matching share for the organization’s federal Drug Free Communities grant.
    Wilmington businessman Dave Rampa was the only one who expressed an interest in purchasing the old police station in two rounds of bidding. Rampa offered $1 for the property, plus some tuckpointing on the adjacent county landmark city hall and paving part of the lot between the two buildings. He also asked the city to waive all building permits and fees. He estimated it would take one to two years to complete his part of the deal and to turn the building into usable commercial, retail or office space.
    Before the City Council accepted Rampa’s offer, however, the coalition proposed that the city maintain ownership and allow the group to manage the property as it allows the Wilmington Area Historical Society to use the old city hall and the Lions Club to use the World War II-era civic center on River Street.
    Coalition President Paula Ekstrom told city officials at the council Buildings and Grounds Committee last week that phase one would include finding funds for tuckpointing and paving and replacing the window in the front of the building to turn what used to be the dispatch area into the teen activity center, in addition to cleaning and painting to make the whole space more attractive.
    Completion of the first phase would allow the coalition to habitate the building and eliminate its current rent payment, taking a burden off the city budget.
    “That would be phase one, just getting an area for the kids, getting the city [hall] taken care of with the extra parking, extra blacktop and tuckpointing the building... the city would be getting the deal but still own the property.”
    Phase two would be renovation of the existing office area for efficiency and to take advantage of natural light, which makes for a better work environment.
    The final phase would be creating a space big enough to have a  meeting room at the rear of the building. Ekstrom said the third phase would be expensive, because it would entail demolition of the jail cells and a solid concrete block wall.
    The coalition members are still in the process of getting detailed estimates for paving, tuckpointing and replacement of windows in the front of the building and expected costs for the second and third phases.
    The coalition executive board is meeting this week to start talking about fundraising opportunities. City ownership of the property would be crucial.
    “Being a city-owned building, I can get funding easier than if an individual or LLC owned the property — then we would be fixing up somebody else’s building,” she said. “I’m not so sure that funding is going to be as easy to get for that. The coalition will look at grants and seek corporate contributions to get the project started.
    Ekstrom is confident that the coalition will have no problems getting funding for phase one.
    The coalition’s teen participants and members have toured the building and are enthusiastic about the idea.
    “I had only brought up at our last membership meeting our dream ... and all of a sudden the dream was here,” Ekstrom commented.
    Mayor Roy Strong reminded members of the council’s Buildings and Grounds Committee that they still hadn’t determined if they wanted to continue on a sales track or keep the building, which would mean keeping some responsibility for maintenance, such as roof replacement and plumbing, and allow the coalition to use it.
    “It’s been empty this long ... I would feel better if we could try to give them [the coalition] at least another chance to see if they can come up with the funding,” said Fourth Ward Alderman Steve Evans.
    The committee gave the coalition two more months to get more concrete figures for remodeling and identify potential revenue sources.
    Before the city can sell the property, which includes three lots, it has to amend the property lines so the emergency communications tower that spans two of the lots sits on its own lot and can be excluded from the sale. And before the council agrees to allow the coalition to move into the building, it will have to reject Rampa’s proposal, which is still in play.