ES council agrees to new meeting site

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Eureka Springs City Council will have a new home after the first few months of next year.

On Monday night, the council agreed to permanently relocate meetings to the Eureka Springs Community Center at 44 Kingshighway, the site of the old high school. Blake Lasater, a board member of the Eureka Springs Community Center Foundation, said the community center would love to have city meetings on-site.

“If you guys were meeting there, it would certainly benefit us, and I think it would benefit all of you,” Lasater said. “I’d love to give it away for free, but my board said we have to have something to pay utilities and maintenance. This is about the best we can do, because we have to maintain our business model to keep us afloat.”

Foundation chairwoman Diane Murphy presented a proposal for a five-year arrangement where the foundation would update the interior of the community meeting room and the city would pay for outdoor renovations. The city would oversee the construction of an ADA-compliant ramp and handrails on the west entrance of the activity center, Murphy said, and configure the parking lot west of the activity center to create required handicapped parking and signage.

The foundation would perform all interior renovation including the community meeting room, the ADA-compliant restroom, entrance lobby and interior and exterior doors, Murphy said, with the city providing furnishings inside the room.

“There wouldn’t be any more outlay of cash or rent that first year. We would all just go ahead and expend those funds to get everything started,” Murphy said.

The city could pay $5,000 per year for rent after the first year, Murphy said, or public works could provide in-kind services to cover the fee. Mayor Butch Berry said both options would be doable.

“There are methods we could accomplish that if so desired,” Berry said.

The foundation has made its lease payment for the next year, Murphy said, as part of its lease-purchase agreement with the Eureka Springs School District.

“We are in control of that property until at least Sept. 1 of next year,” Murphy said. “Our goal was to come up with an arrangement that would make the council as well as our foundation feel secure enough that you have gotten value for the investment you made. I feel like the investment in making the handicap-accessible ramp and the parking is not an excessive investment for a year’s worth of lease.”

Alderman David Mitchell said he wasn’t so sure about the proposal.

“It’s hard for me to take a look at what you just said … when you framed it in a year, and then I think of other options which are more permanent, more stable, more desirable for financial input,” Mitchell said. “It seems not as stable of an option to me as I would like to see.”

Lasater said he believes the foundation will be able to purchase the property before its 20-year lease-purchase agreement is up.

“This is a very successful project. I’m very enthused about it, so I don’t think we’re going to fail,” Lasater said. “The city being on board up there would really lend us a lot of credibility.”

Alderman Terry McClung said he believes the council should choose a permanent location soon.

“It’s one of those blind faith things that sometimes you’ve gotta step out there,” McClung said.

Alderman Bob Thomas asked if the community meeting room would be dedicated to the city. Murphy said the foundation would host all city meetings and special called meetings there, but the room will be the site of other community meetings, too.

“I just think going into something that’s a one-year lease or five years and you don’t own it and other people are meeting there … it doesn’t fit with what the city of Eureka Springs wants to be to me,” Thomas said.

“I think it fits,” Murphy said, remembering a community meeting five years ago where citizens expressed the need for a community center. “That was established at those community meetings. We’ve been working ever since then to find a path to it. We’re still working on it and hope you’ll be a part of it.”

Thomas moved to permanently relocate to the community center, and Thomas amended the motion saying the move would occur only if the room is dedicated to the city. The council voted on Thomas’ motion, with Peg Adamson, Thomas and Mitchell voting for it and Mickey Schneider and McClung voting against it.

When the amendment failed for lack of a quorum, the council voted on McClung’s original motion to move city meetings to the community center. Thomas, Schneider and McClung voted for it, and Adamson voted against it. Berry voted in favor of it, and the motion passed.

Later at the meeting, Thomas said he voted incorrectly and asked to vote again. City attorney Tim Weaver said the revote would have to take place at the council’s next meeting, and Thomas agreed to wait.

On Tuesday morning, Murphy said the foundation is excited to host city meetings.

“We will be working on the improvements to that space so that the meetings can be held there the first part of the year,” she said. “I think it’s a relief for the city to have made a decision about where the meetings will be held.”

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20, at The Auditorium.

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