Hanford City Council Debates Selling Historic Buildings

The old fire house is a classic example of 1930’s art deco architecture. The building is being considered for demolition.

Hanford’s historical buildings bring in needed tourists’ dollars, and are cherished by the residents, but the question faced by the city council is how to pay for their maintenance.

At the March 7 Hanford City Council meeting the debate raged over the Bastille, Old Courthouse, Rabobank and the Old Fire House. While the council members leaned towards restoring the Bastille and Court House, Councilmembers Sue Sorenson, Justine Mendes and Francisco Ramirez were in favor of selling the Rabobank Building.

The Old Fire House on the corner of Lacy Boulevard and Kaweah Avenue was deemed too expensive to restore and all council members agreed to have it demolished. Many Hanford residents would like to see the Art Deco building saved, but city staff said that it would cost $2 million dollars to renovate.

Public Works Director, Lou Camera, said that the Bastille would require $900,000 in renovations but that amount did not include the interior.  The Old Courthouse needs an $80,000 elevator and $550,000 for its air condition and heater (HVAC) system.  The funding for the repairs would come from the Accumulated Capital Outlay (ACO) fund but would fall $350,000 short. In addition, taking all of the ACO money for renovations would mean that $50,000 earmarked for the Down Town Reinvestment Fund would no longer be available.

Mayor David Ayers said that the $350,000 shortfall could be paid for by the new fire station. To finish construction, the fire station borrowed money from the ACO. The ACO will receive an additional $1.4 million over the course of three to five years as the fire station pays the loan back.

“There are funds available to renovate both. It’s just a gut call,” said Ayers.

The Bastille served as the Kings County prison from 1897 to 1964. After being used for several restaurants and night clubs the building has been vacant since 2009.

The Kings County Courthouse was opened in 1896 and served as a courthouse until 1976. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and was remodeled in the early 1980s to houses offices, small shops and restaurants. Because of HVAC problems and flooding only a few tenants remain.

Referring to the Bastille, “We have property that is one of our jewels that we can’t use,” said Sorenson. She felt that because the city was creative with finding funding to build the new fire station that the same creativity could be used to restore the Bastille.  Sorenson’s goal is to renovate the building and let the citizens enjoy it.

Sorenson asked Darrel Pyle, Hanford City Manager, if the city puts one million into the building and makes it marketable, “Are we going to make $10 a month or get someone willing to invest $500,000?”

Pyle said that a few years ago 12 parties were interested in utilizing the building for different enterprises and the best offer would have brought in $5000 a month. But that would have necessitated a $1.5 million outlay by the city.

Councilmember Martin Devin said that Hanford needs to keep these buildings for the city’s enjoyment and use, not in order to try and recoup the money invested. Ayers added, “They are beautiful but they are expensive.”

The city council came to a consensus that it would discuss how to fund the renovations at the next meeting but they would definitely not sell them.

The discussion over the fate of Rabobank was much more contentious.

Mendes was willing to commit to keeping the Courthouse because it already had tenants but wanted to know how the city council intended to cover the $350,000 shortfall. He said that Rabobank was marketable, in great shape, and would make up the gap the city would need to renovate the Courthouse and Bastille. He said that Hanford would be “using its own assets to keep the town’s identity and the Downtown Reinvestment could keep its ACO money.”

Ramirez was also in favor of selling Rabobank provided that the city puts contingencies into the deed that the any owners must preserve the original façade. Ty Mizote, Hanford’s attorney, said that the city council is at liberty to impose contingencies but that they will lower the price of the building.

Three years ago the building was appraised for $850,000.

Sorenson was also making the argument in favor of selling. She asked the audience, many of whom had objected during public comment about selling any historic building, who had owned every building they ever bought. She pointed out that people usually have to sell a building to buy a new building and that it’s no different for a small town. She also listed off about a dozen historic buildings that are privately owned and in better shape than city buildings.

“Private is bad and government is better. I don’t believe that,” said Sorenson.

Lastly, Sorenson said that the city should not be in the property management business or forced to create its own revenue.

Ayers said he was against selling Rabobank. He said that the building pays for itself because it is rented and that eventually the city will need the office space. “For me it’s planning for the future.”

Sorenson pointed out that the city already has the Courthouse to use for office space and that if the city occupies Rabobank that would translate into lost rental income.

Devin was also against selling Rabobank. He said that the only people in Hanford he knows who want to sell the building are sitting on the council. He couldn’t even count how many people had told him they want to keep the building, he said.

Mata said that this is just the beginning. The staff will come back in the next few months with a report on if the $58,000 in yearly rent included maintenance what the real income was on the Rabobank.

Lost opportunities for city revenue

While lamenting over finding the funds to maintain Hanford’s historical buildings, the city council lost out on two painless funding sources: the Transient Occupancy Tax and Purple Heart’s marijuana grow facility. The occupancy tax would have been paid for by visitors and would have brought in about $200,000 a year. Purple Heart Marijuana facility, at full build out, would have brought in $14 million in tax revenue a year.

At the February 21 City Council meeting everyone was excited about the prospect of raising the occupancy tax and earmarking the funds for down town revitalization. It was even suggested to coordinate the rollout of the special election with Hanford’s yearly birthday party.

Two weeks later it was a different council.

Mendes was still in favor of the occupancy tax but wanted to reduce the suggested amount from 12% to 10% to stay in line with neighboring towns. Hanford’s current occupancy tax is 8%. The 2% increase would be earmarked for down town revitalization.

Ramirez was also in favor of putting the occupancy tax to the Hanford voters.

But Devin wasn’t sure the new tax would pass and the city would waste $70,000 paying for a special election. He said he hadn’t met one person who would vote for the tax.

“I don’t like this,” he said.

Sorenson did not appreciate the effort put into an occupancy tax instead of increasing the sales tax. She said that Hanford has the lowest sales tax in California and by focusing on the occupancy tax the council is missing the big picture. Ayers agreed with Sorenson and Devin. He said that the tax would be difficult to pass and that he wanted the council to pursue a sales tax.

According to Pyle, Purple Heart sent him a letter through email on March 3 that they were no longer interested in locating their commercial marijuana grow site in Hanford. The reason for their pulling out of buying the old Pirelli Tire Factory was that Hanford City Council decided not to issue the company a conditional use permit to cultivate medical marijuana. Without local permission, Purple Heart could not receive a state license in January of 2018.

The city council instead voted to let the citizens decide during the November 2018 national elections. If the Hanford residents voted to deny Purple Heart a license the company would have invested millions of dollars for nothing.

According to the Hanford Sentinel, Purple Heart is considering three other communities in the Central Valley. Coalinga has already started receiving revenue from its medical marijuana facility located in the former prison.

Pyle said that Hanford is nevertheless going forward with writing a draft zoning ordinance on the commercial cultivation of marijuana and that other medical marijuana companies were interested in locating in Hanford’s Industrial Park.

Discussion on the fate of the historic buildings will come back to the city council in approximately three months. The staff will present a more detailed accounting of the real income made on the buildings, cost of renovation, and the sources of funding for those renovations. If the city council decides to sell any of the buildings the issue will go in front of the Hanford Planning Commission.

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