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7/3/2018 7:11:00 PM
For $5.6 million, former furniture building to become New Albany city hall

Chris Morris, News and Tribune Assistant Editor

NEW ALBANY — In a little more than a year, New Albany will have a new city hall.

The New Albany City Council voted 5-4 Monday night to enter into an agreement with Denton Floyd Real Estate Group to rehabilitate the old Reisz Furniture building and turn it into the new city hall. The city will pay $570,000 a year — out of Economic Development Income Tax funds — for 15 years, and in year 16 will take ownership of the building.

New Albany City Attorney Shane Gibson said the cost to restore and turn the dilapidated building into city hall will be $5.6 million. The cost, he said, is fixed and the developer will be responsible for any change orders. 

The vote was a carbon copy of the first two taken on the ordinance. Dave Barksdale, Bob Caesar, Greg Phipps, Matt Nash and Pat McLaughlin voted in favor of the proposal while Dan Coffey, Scott Blair, Dave Aebersold and Al Knable voted against.

Gibson said construction work could start in 45 days. The building at 148 E. Main St. has been empty for years. Under the proposal, the city will vacate the third floor of the City-County Building for the new city hall, which will triple the current space for city offices, in 2019.

The Assembly Room Monday night was standing-room only, with the majority by show of hands against the project due to costs. Some criticized the process, and how local developers were not part of the process. For almost one hour residents spoke to the council, urging them to vote for or against the ordinance.

"Is this the highest and best use for this project," John L. Smith asked the council.

"This is a financial fiasco," Wendell Lane said. "I urge you to reject the proposal."

Irv Stumler said Denton Floyd was on record for stating the M. Fine assisted living facility on Main Street would be completed by July 2, but that building is far from finished, raising questions about the developer.

Some spoke in favor of the deal, including New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan who read a statement to the council urging them to support the ordinance.

"This plan brings new economic development to Main Street. It adds more technology and efficiency to city government, removes blight. It saves and repurposes an historic downtown building, and it puts us in a better position to attract new investment, the key to our prosperity."

Greg Sekula, southern regional director of Indiana Landmarks, said saving the Reisz building would be a "significant step" for the city.

But Coffey said the deal was not good for the taxpayers. And he said he had a petition with 400 signatures from residents who oppose the proposal.

Coffey said the $570,000 per year dedicated to this project could be used to improve roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure needs. The city currently pays $200,000 a year for use of the third floor of the City-County Building. Coffey also said the city will still have to make a rent payment for police headquarters along with upkeep and insurance for the new building.

 "When I talk to people they ask about roads and sidewalks, and not a one said they wanted a building more than three times what we need," Coffey said. "There has been a lot of deception here. This process has been kept from enough people so they don't know what is going on. Forget the project and look at the process."

Blair said he has also discussed the project with many constituents, and only one person spoke in favor of the project.

"People who have gotten more information see how bad a project this is," he said. "They asked me to take care of their tax dollars and not to overspend."

Blair said a small portion of the money committed to this project could be used to remodel the third floor of the City-County Building to make it more efficient for city offices.

However, Caesar said the Reisz building will attract more redevelopment to Main Street, just like the White House building did to Pearl Street.

"This is also a wonderful opportunity to save this building," he said.

Barksdale said the new city hall will be much more accessible, and provide more than 200 parking spaces. He also said he does not think the Reisz building will be an "excessive amount of space."

The New Albany Redevelopment Commission already committed $750,000 to help Denton Floyd purchase the property, stabilize it and clear the inside. The city council also allocated $500,000 in the budget for new furniture and office equipment.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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