Loss of Fred’s still may prove to be win for city

Fred's sign
December 19th, 2019     Featured Opinion

It appears likely that the city will be able to purchase the former Fred’s building from the businessman who bought a number of the buildings in bankruptcy court.

It’s lucky the building became available but it was up to New Albany officials to act on the opportunity, and they did.

The purchase would solve some problems aldermen, the mayor and department heads have been grappling with for several years, and it prevents the likelihood of having a large empty building downtown slowly deteriorating, if unsold.

The general plan is to move the light, gas and water department to the front of the building, utilizing the drive-though window for utility bill payments.

The police department would go in the back and use the upstairs area for evidence storage and other needs.

More or less in the middle would be a needed municipal courtroom, which could also serve as a meeting for aldermen or other city groups.

In addition to interior modifications, the building exterior would be made to be more in keeping with other municipal and city buildings.

Granted, renovation will be fairly expensive.

However, the alternative is to purchase land elsewhere and construct at least two buildings from scratch. The cost, estimated earlier at $2 million per building, now looks like it would be closer to $3 million or $4 million so savings to taxpayers will be enormous.

The location of the building will be a boon as well.

It looks like the two departments and courtroom might require no more than two-thirds or so of the available space, which opens other opportunities.

I would like to see that available space used for small convention-type meeting rooms because now the city has only the Magnolia Room at the civic center. Having more space could provide the opportunity to attract larger business meetings and small conventions to the city, bringing welcome revenue. Such space is needed by local groups as well.

If the sale goes through, officials would then have to decide what to do with the present light, gas and water and police departments.

That may require some thought.

One suggestion for the utility office has been to open it back up and let the fire department use it for training all city and county departments. Another is to move some other city offices there.

The police department and former city hall is a bit more of a problem because of its historic designation, condition and internal configuration. It has been suggested to use for meeting space also since it is close to the civic center but renovation would likely be prohibitive in cost. It could house other city offices or something related to tourism.

If the police department does move, that means all the vehicles behind it move as well, opening up that space.

I would not mind seeing the city construct a two-level parking garage in the area behind the police department. Although expensive, it would solve the downtown parking problem for some time and would not be more obtrusive than the adjoining bank parking lot.

All this can be hammered out later.

For now, the focus should be on hoping the city officials’ efforts pay off and, if successful, moving ahead as expeditiously as possible.

Losing Fred’s was a detriment to the downtown area. It will be nice if something good for the entire city comes out of it and city leaders need recognition for pursuing this.

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