Homer News file photo                                The Homer Education and Recreation Complex at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Pioneer Avenue.

Homer News file photo The Homer Education and Recreation Complex at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Pioneer Avenue.

City seeks third-party manager for the HERC

The city of Homer could be looking at a third-party property manager to take over much of the responsibility for the main Homer Education and Recreation Complex building by as early as this summer.

Members of the Homer City Council discussed this and other aspects of the HERC’s future at a work session before their regular meeting on Monday. The council went over letters of interest from entities in town that would like to be tenants of the HERC1 building, which has long been a topic of frustration in Homer as it continues to age and deteriorate.

The main potential tenant discussed at the meeting was public charter school Fireweed Academy. The school is looking to consolidate its two locations into one campus and has long expressed interest in the HERC. Other letters of interest came from K-Bay Martial Arts and Bunnell Street Arts Center. The City of Homer Community Recreation Department also submitted its own letter of interest detailing its continued needs for that space.

After members of a HERC Task Force presented findings that the HERC1 building would need to be demolished if some solution wasn’t found within five years, the council began in earnest to search for possible tenants to fill the space. The goal is that a third-party property manager would not only be a tenant paying rent to the city, but would also handle other secondary lessees, building maintenance and operational costs.

“One thing that I was sort of interested in seeing with the letters of interest was how different groups might be able to work together, and there’s a couple of things in here that appear to be mutually exclusive,” said council member Donna Aderhold. “So I was … just sort of curious how much flexibility there might be in those.”

Aderhold was also concerned that, should the tenant of the HERC be a school, like Fireweed, that it have the ability to work out any conflicts with community recreation to ensure that as a continued use of the space. Erik Niebuhr works at First National Bank and serves as the budget committee for Fireweed, and he said that the times of day the Community Recreation Department listed as being needed in their letter of interest line up well with a school schedule.

Community Recreation lists wanting time and space to provide youth activities from 3-5 p.m. weekdays, and teen activities from 5-9 p.m. The department listed ideal times on the weekends as well. Niebuhr said this lines up with when school would be getting out anyway.

“I don’t see any conflict,” he said. “I think if anything we will have more robust equipment in the gym that people could use or not use.”

Niebuhr said that Fireweed would also pay for heat in the HERC1 gym if it were the tenant, and that he believes a nicer look to the building after upgrades would attract more community involvement.

Council member Caroline Venuti spoke in favor of having a school as a tenant of the HERC, saying Fireweed has a strong proposal.

“For me, that would be a good use of the building, because it was a school,” she said of HERC1. “… One of the advantages was that it was a 9-month (occupation of the building) and so in the summertime, some other things could be used there to pick up some added income and let it be open for the public.”

Council members Heath Smith and Shelly Erickson did question whether Fireweed Academy would be able to not only be a tenant, but act as a third-party property manager as well.

“I think that any third-party property manager would have to be willing to invest an amount of money to look at what their return on investment would be,” Smith said.

The council decided the next logical step is to direct city administration to draft a Request for Proposals to put out to the public.

This will allow council members to see what interested parties have to offer or work with, which will in turn help the city decide how much of its own money to contribute, possibly for capital improvements.

“I do think that there needs to be some city responsibility associated with it,” Aderhold said. “We will have a tenant in the building, so I think we will need to contribute some in that regard. … The city will probably be required to have some capital expense associated with it. I can’t imagine that somebody else is just going to come in and do the whole thing.”

Smith said he and City Manager Katie Koester had talked about what to include in an RFP for a third-property manager for the building.

“Some of the things that we talked about was, of course they would manage the property,” he said. “They’d be responsible for the capital improvements … the operational costs and the maintenance costs.”

City Manager Katie Koester said she’ll bring a resolution to the March 11 council meeting that would authorize her to draft an RFP. While going over the general parameters of the RFP, Koester said the idea is that the city will pay some kind of rent as Community Recreation will be a tenant, and/or contribute some money for capital improvements.

To read the letters of interest in the HERC in full, go to cityofhomer-ak.gov/citycouncil/city-council-worksession-134.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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