Swap may clear way for Community Center sale

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By Joe Grimm
The Williamston Post

City Manager Alan Dolley cautiously said “I think it works,” after Williamston’s Tax Increment Finance Authority Board voted Sept. 21 to support a property swap.

The proposed conversion could smooth out the latest sticking point in Williamston’s long struggle to shed ownership of its Community Center.

Dolley hopes that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will accept 17.3 acres on the city’s eastern border for the Community Center property, held in a DNR recreational land trust. Trust status is preventing the city’s sale of the center to local businessman Timothy Baise.

The city acquired the land, south of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway tracks, as part of an industrial park. That part was found to be wetlands, unsuitable for development. Dolley said that by exchanging the wetlands for the Community Center at 201 School St., the center could be sold and the DNR trust would have more land of a better kind and in a better location for recreation. The DNR must weigh the value of the two parcels.

Dolley said word that trust status would stop the sale was the latest in a string of disappointments surrounding the Community Center. The city bought the three-story brick building, dating back to 1874, from Williamston Community Schools in 2007. The structure had been Williamston High School and Williamston Middle School, but new buildings made it obsolete. The City Council that bought the building planned to combine all city services in it. The next City Council dropped that, throwing the center into an expensive limbo.

Earlier this year, Dolley said the city was spending $60,000 to $100,000 to maintain the building and that it needed $500,000 in repairs. The trust arose when the DNR helped the city with about $200,000 for the building. Only recently, and through a change in personnel at the DNR, did the city learn that trust status would prevent a sale.

Frustration was evident at Monday’s meeting. Board member Paul Joseph, the lone opponent of the swap, said “I feel like the city made a bad deal when it acquired the community center.” No one disagreed.

From the audience, Williamston Mayor Noah Belanger said, “Some decisions were made a long time ago, and we’re trying to clean those up now.” The proposal should be before Belanger and the City Council at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28 at City Hall, 161 E. Grand River Ave.

Dolley said he would call DNR officials the next day to tell them of the vote.

New deputy city clerk starts work

Barbara Burke, formerly executive director of Williamston’s Chamber of Commerce, was at the desk of Williamston City Hall on Monday. She said it was her first day as deputy city clerk. Her successor at the chamber has not been selected, she said.

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