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Council Debates Selling Off Properties
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One structure has sat vacant for nearly a year in the center of town, another is dilapidated and in need of repair, a third was described by the city manager as “the blight of Maple Avenue.” The Hershey Visitors Center, The Free Will Baptist Church, and a vacant rental house are the list of city owned properties City Manager Bryan Whitemyer wants to unload to apply to more than $1 million in a budget deficit.

With the 5,400 square foot Hershey Visitor Center being the most viable for use, Whitemyer offered the option of leasing the building, mentioning it as a possibility as the administrative headquarters for the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department.

Whitemyer added that he had inspected the other two properties and found them in serious need of work.

“The church is in desperate need of repair,” said Whitemyer at the July 1 Oakdale City Council meeting about the North Third Avenue structure describing peeling paint, filth, and falling interior conditions. “In some of it I cringed when I walked by.”

Though the property is located downtown and only currently used for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Whitemyer offered that it may be better to raze the building.

According to Whitemyer, the rental house on Maple Avenue was a gift to the city and had brought in only $9,000 a year when it was being rented.

“With staff reductions and budget constraints, is the City of Oakdale the best steward of these assets?” Whitemyer asked the council in seeking its direction. “I want to focus on our core competencies, which property management is not (one of them).”

Whitemyer had Touchdown Properties estimate the worth of the properties with the Hershey Center being valued at $475,000, the church at $139,000, and the single-story house at $80,800.

Councilman Don Petersen agreed that he saw the benefit in selling the properties, adding that the Hershey Visitors Center, if sold to a private entity, would bring back property tax and possibly sales tax revenues to coffers.

“I don’t see why the city should be owning real estate if it’s not serving a purpose to the citizens,” Petersen said. “To have $675,000 tied up and funds needed to maintain it, seems ridiculous to me.”

Councilman Mike Brennan said he was on the city’s redevelopment agency when it voted to buy the Hershey Visitors Center using redevelopment funds prior to the state gaining control of those monies. He said he would like the city to recoup what it spent for the building, stating he thought the city spent $650,000.

“I don’t think we should be in the property management business either,” Mayor Pat Paul stated. “We’ll never make the money back on the Hershey building.”

Brennan wanted the city to keep the other two properties for their alternate uses, suggesting that the church could be a downtown art center or the land used to build a senior residential complex above retail space. He also suggested the rental home be leased to the Oakdale Heritage Museum to fix up and rent, using the profits for the museum.

Whitemyer countered that the museum has a a deficit cash balance of $60,000.

“We are inches away from insolvency,” Whitemyer said, recognizing there may be emotional attachments to the properties, but in bad times, assets have to be sold off.”

Whitemyer added that even though Councilman Farrell Jackson was absent with an illness, Jackson wished his view not to sell any of the properties be relayed at the meeting.

Councilman Tom Dunlop also felt now was not the time to sell any of the properties when the assets are depressed.

“The compelling argument is not if we should sell these,” said Petersen, “it’s if we should keep these.”

The council noted that each of the properties had quirks that may inhibit the sales.

While the city owns the Hershey Visitors Center building, the surrounding land and landscape ownership is in limbo with the state taking over redevelopment properties. They hope to have the matter clarified in August.

The church may be an identified historical building and may not be able to be demolished, which would hinder its sale.

“Sounds like I have a homework assignment,” said Whitemyer adding that he would bring the proposal back to the council at a future meeting.