DURAND — City officials are hosting a workshop May 14 as part of a grant application process to gather community input on the future of the vacant former Simplicity building on Oak Street.
“We want to be able to say to a developer, this is what our community supports and here is how the city can help you achieve that. Right now, we’re missing that input from our citizens and that’s why we decided to hold this public meeting,” Durand City Manager Colleen O’Toole said.
The city plans to have designers and environmental experts on hand at the meeting — from 6 to 8 p.m. at city hall — to answer questions and possibly sketch some designs of potential projects.
The building at 209 S. Oak St. was a longtime Simplicity factory. The company made industrial screens until it merged with Terex, which was located directly across the street.
After the two merged, the Simplicity building changed hands several times and housed various industrial companies; at one point a welding shop.
In 2015, the owner of the building was unable to pay the property taxes on the building and it went up for a tax sale. The city of Durand became the new owner.
“Ever since then the city has been trying to figure out what to do with it,” O’Toole said.
The building costs the city money to maintain and secure. This past winter, a portion of the roof collapsed due to snow and there have been attempts to break into the building. In 2014, the building was damaged in an arson fire.
The building was listed for sale about two weeks ago and there isn’t a set asking price.
“We’re kind of open to working with a developer just because it’s such a centrally located site. If it’s a project the community really wants to see, we might not charge anything for the building. It all depends on what kind of project and if it’s a good fit,” O’Toole said.
The building itself is in rough shape.
“All of the wooden structures are in such poor shape that they would need to be demolished,” she said.
There are also several environmental concerns for any potential developer to consider. There is asbestos throughout the building, so the roof, wooden floors and the windows would need to be removed and replaced. There are also a number of lead contamination sites and volatile organic compounds that need to be remediated.
The city is concerned the environmental problems and the need to demolish buildings will limit the interest of potential developers as the cost of remediation is expected to be high. Two potential developers approached the city in recent years with interest in the site, but once they discovered the environmental problems they lost interest.
The contaminants were discovered during a test that was conducted as part of the EPA’s Brownfields Assessment Program.
The two-phase program helps municipalities redevelop brownfield sites.
Now that the tests have been completed, the city has applied for a $500,000 grant from the EPA that would be used for demolition and environmental remediation.
The city expects to know whether or not it will receive the grant sometime this summer.
The public meeting is part of that grant application process. EPA representatives will attend the meeting.
“We would consider it a build-ready site. It doesn’t need any public infrastructure,” O’Toole said.
The site, which has city water and sewer connections, is zoned industrial, but the city is going through a master plan update and is open to changing the zoning of the site to anything from retail to residential.
“Part of the reason we’re doing this public hearing is so we can see what the community wants it zoned as so we can reflect that,” O’Toole said.
There are a number of potential incentives and grants for the site.
“The county has a brownfield authority and the state has incentives and this property would definitely qualify for those types of incentives,” O’Toole explained.
If no interested developers step forward with viable plans, the most likely course is for the city to demolish the building.
“We would love to have somebody develop it but at the very least we would like to see it turned back into green space,” O’Toole said.