The city of Homer is looking for public input as it pushes on in its quest to solve the problem of the Homer Education and Recreation Complex, informally known as the HERC.
The set of two buildings situated near Homer Middle School on the Sterling Highway have been in various stages of disrepair for years, and the city now has a few directions it can go thanks to the work of a task force formed to tackle the issue. The HERC Task Force presented final recommendations about what to do with the site in November 2o18, stating the main HERC building (called HERC 1) has only five good years left before the city will have to consider demolishing it.
City officials, members of the task force and residents met Tuesday night at City Hall to discuss the recommendations, ask questions, and provide answers.
The Homer City Council, when creating the task force, had asked its members to answer the following questions:
• Can the upstairs of the HERC be safely used with no capital improvements?
• What are the minimum improvements that would be needed to safely use the entire HERC facility and the cost associated with those improvements?
• What are the desirable improvements that need to be made to the entire HERC facility to allow it to be used to its full potential for the next 10 years?
• What would it cost to demolish the HERC and build a new facility that meets the recreation needs of the community on the existing site?
The task force has recommended that the city try to find a public-private partnership in the next five years in order to have enough money to renovate HERC 1. It’s too costly for just the city to tear it down and construct a new building, the task force found, and the idea of asking voters to approve a general obligation bond for that route has not gotten a lot of support.
The main discussion at Tuesday’s meeting centered around what a public-private partnership would look like. One meeting attendee cautioned that the city could run into issues from the state because, even if someone from the private sector was leasing the the building and managing it, the HERC is still a city building. City buildings are subject to different wage rates and other standards, and therefore cost more to build.
Others worried that, in order to make a profit, a private sector building manager would have to turn a facility on the HERC site into a club and charge membership. Several people at the meeting emphasized the importance of keeping any facility at the HERC site as open and accessible as possible to the community in terms of recreation.
Asia Freeman, artistic director of Bunnell Street Arts Center, was in attendance at the meeting and pointed out that there is a measure of wealth to be found and potentially capitalized on in the foundation sector, using the Rasmuson Foundation as an example.
Some participants at the meeting discussed the possibility of forming a “Friends of the HERC’ nonprofit, or a coalition of community members and organizations to manage a facility. Deputy City Planner Julie Engebretsen said there are several different ways a public-private partnership can look.
“Someone besides the city,” she said. “So yes, that could be a private business, that could be a nonprofit, that could be some other relationship.”
For its part, the city has taken up the task for proceeding on the HERC question. The task force had recommended that the council either take the reins or form another task force or commission to deal with the next steps in the process. At its next meeting on Monday, the council will vote on a resolution to seek letters of interest from the public about who is interested in being a tenant in a facility at the HERC site, for what, and at what times of day.
The hope is to find leads on someone from the private sector interested in occupying the building and helping to pay for upgrades.
“I would say by March, roughly, the city council would then have that information back, and they would be then looking for a third party who might be interested in operating and maintaining that building, looking at renovations, those kinds of things,” Engebretsen said.
“I think the council is proceeding on pace,” said Mayor Ken Caster, who was also there.
To read the HERC Task Force’s recommendations, visit cityofhomer-ak.gov.