Historic Strand Theatre is now on the market

Julie O’Connell provides the council with a financial report and planned events of the Urban Renewal Agency. She also informed the council that Urban Renewal has listed the Strand Theatre and Hotel Evanston for sale. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

Sundance Film Festival shows some interest

EVANSTON — The agenda for the May 9 Evanston City Council work session consisted of five major items for discussion. The session was held in the main council chambers due to expectations of a larger crowd than normal.

Julie O’Connell, with the Urban Renewal Agency (URA), who provided the council with the URA’s annual financial report for fiscal year 2022 and upcoming planned projects and activities.

“Our income comes from memberships, sponsors and the fundraising activities we promote,” O’Connell said. “We show a loss in both income and expenses for the Strand as the city now charges for the use of the Strand and we no longer have to pay the maintenance for the building.”

O’Connell provided the council with a list of URA-planned projects and events for the rest of this year. She said JUB Engineering is designing the lighting project for the downtown area and they hope to be able to complete that project this year. She said Ayres Associates had signed a contract with URA in November 2022 and is consulting with URA project development plans and the blight study.

“We had an appraisal done on the Strand Theatre in October of 2022,” O’Connell said. “Beginning in February of this year, we posted a six months commercial listing of the Hotel Evanston and the Strand Theatre.”

Joe Cooley with Mountain West Commercial Real Estate in Salt Lake City told the Herald the city is asking $460,000 for the building.

Jen Hegeman asked O’Connell if URA was working with the Sundance Film Festival to see if they would be interested in the use of the Strand for their overflow.

O’Connell said, “Yes, the festival is very interested in seeing the Strand, maybe to either rent or purchase the facility.”

Prior to O’Connell’s presentation, three members of the Historic Preservation Commission — Debbie Liechty, Joanie Nixon and Tiffany Sager — were first to address the council. The three had provided each council member and Mayor Kent Williams with a copy of a letter from Marty Westland, the steam engine expert who has been donating time to the restoration of the little steam switch engine 4420 housed in the Roundhouse.

“We first want to thank the council for their support of the work of the commission,” Liechty said. “We have had lots of interest in the restoration work on the engine from tourists and community members.”

Nixon provided the council with personal recollections of the history of engine 4420. She said the Historic Preservation Commission had raised the funds to have the engine moved back to its original home at the roundhouse and now they are trying to raise more funds to complete its restoration.

Tiffany Sager introduced herself as being a new member on the commission and one who is interested in preserving the history of Evanston.

The letter from Westland given to the council apprises the council of the progress made on the engine restoration and states that the restoration of the “engine project has the potential to attract business and acclaim to Evanston.”

Westland encourages the historic commission to organize a separate nonprofit entity that would clearly identify its mission to be the completion of the restoration of the engine. Westland applauded the work of the volunteers who have achieved enormous success. He stressed the need for more manpower, more fundraising and more outside support in order to complete the work in a reasonable amount of time. 

Westland said, “To honor their commitment, I will do whatever I can to help the project succeed.”

Brian Deeter, engineer with JUB Engineering, addressed the council concerning another topic.

Deeter said that, in 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) changed their rule related to irrigation canal piping so that those canals are no longer agriculturally exempt from requiring a permit from USACE.

The USACE is currently working on getting a Regional Conservation Permit (RGP) that would provide a permitting/exemption option for most water conservation projects. 

Deeter said JUB has been working with the USACE and the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to identify what that would mean for the WY PL566 ditch project. Because of the length of the canal and some wetlands that are adjacent to it near the diversion, it was determined that this project would be required to get a permit, mitigation would be necessary given the total area of the project.

The cost of mitigation would run approximately $16,000 to $20,000 per acre. The project could be looking at upwards of $250,000 to complete mitigation plus the cost of the permitting process.

“The NRCS will cost-share the implementation of mitigation under the USACE permitting; however, it has to be included in the Environmental Assessment (EA) to be able to cost-share; 75% NRCS and 25% sponsor share,” Deeter said. “The Bear River Yellow Creek project proponents have two options to consider.”

The first, a high-risk option, would be to immediately complete the EA, work toward obtaining the permit and hope that the USACE would have the RGP in place by then. With this option, there would be no cost-share with the NRCS, so the project sponsor would bear the complete cost of the mitigation and permitting process.

Under the second option, labeled as low-risk, the assumption would be that mitigation would be necessary. JUB and the project sponsor would ask NRCS for more funds to cover the permitting process. Then a mitigation plan would be developed and approved with NRCS and USACE.

That plan would become part of the EA action and the project sponsors would then be able to cost-share the implementation of mitigation during the construction phase of the project. The EA would be delayed until the mitigation plan is completed with the NRCS and USACE.

Deeter explained that mitigation would involve providing a piece of land to replace the wetland that would be removed by piping the canal.

Mike Davis, president of the Evanston City Ditch Irrigation District, said, “Option two is best for the people who get water from the ditch; option one would put the ditch district at risk. The school district, the state of Wyoming and six to seven ranchers all have rights to the water from that ditch.”

Evanston Director of Engineering and Planning Dean Barker said he agreed that option two would be the best option. He said the people are losing 60% of their share of the water the way the ditch is now.

“Option 2 will allow us to get the water where it needs to go, create ponds and not lose any more water,” Barker said. “We can develop recreational features later on the property.”

Deeter explained that JUB needed the council to approve the option choice as the city council is the sponsor of the project.

Director of Parks and Recreation Scott Ehlers addressed the council to discuss a lease agreement for golf carts and the operating agreement for the Purple Sage Golf Course.

“The lease agreement with Yamaha for 50 all-electric golf carts has been a great money maker for the golf course,” Ehlers said. “The monthly lease is $97.69 per cart for a total of $4,800 per month. We can budget for it and the profit from the rental of the carts to individuals is huge.” Ehlers said the course charges $20 to rent a cart for 18 holes.

Ehlers said they will have a total of 68 carts this year. They store them in the basement of the building, where they are recharged each night. He said they ordered the carts without the plastic windshield this year as the plastic was impossible to clean. They do rent out or sell a vinyl wrap-around shield for the carts if people want them.

The annual operating agreement with the city has no changes, Ehlers said. They have six full-time employees for the season.

Councilmember Jen Hegeman asked Ehlers if he had ever thought about getting solar panels for recharging the batteries. He responded that he hadn’t, but he would look into the possibility.

The last agenda item for discussion was the fiscal budget. Treasurer Trudy Lym asked the council to review the packet she had given them regarding the departments and department heads could answer any questions. She said the budgets for projects not completed were carried over to the new fiscal year.

Mayor Williams asked, “If we don’t use all of the budgeted amount from the ARPA funds for the bleachers at the fairgrounds, can we use the rest for other equipment such as lights associated with the building of the bleachers?”

Lym said she would look into that, but she didn’t think it would be a problem.

Lym concluded by reminding the council they would be voting on the fiscal budget in a few weeks, so they need to review it to see if they any questions for her.

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