Maybe the city of Cedar Rapids, not the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission, owns City Hall after all.
At least the city, not the commission, has been found to be the “eligible recipient” of $20-million-plus in federal disaster relief for the building, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has concluded.
Just who owns the building has been a matter of some murkiness over the years because the building is named the Veterans Memorial Building, which City Hall occupies. The 1920s-era structure on May’s Island in the Cedar River also is managed by the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission, and so commission members have been known to make a claim to the place.
The issue began to matter in recent months as FEMA prepared to make a decision on who should be the recipient of federal and state funds to repair the flood-damaged building.
City Manager Jim Prosser has said all along that the city would be the recipient. But Pete Welch, chairman of the Veterans Memorial Commission, wasn’t so sure.
In fact, Welch, who was a bit miffed because he says the city left the commission out of much of the planning about the future of the building, filed documents with FEMA seeking to be the rightful recipient of FEMA repair funds. If nothing else, Welch says, the Veterans Commission needed to protect the city in case FEMA determined that the commission and not the city owned the building. Welch worried that FEMA might not pay anything if the commission wasn’t here to protect the building’s interests.
FEMA’s Wally Armstead on Tuesday put it short and sweet: Any FEMA check is going to the city government, not the commission.
Armstead said that “eligible applicants” are limited to only a few categories of recipients, including local governments, states and certain nonprofit groups. The commission was none of those and, in fact, is “an element of the city” in the city’s table of organization, he said.
Armstead said the money for the May’s Island building’s repair is at the ready with the state of Iowa. The city will draw down the FEMA award -– FEMA pays 90 percent, the state of Iowa, 10 percent -– as it makes repairs to the building.
Just what the city’s intends to do with the building remains up in the air as of now.
Prosser said the city must use the FEMA award to fix the building because of the historic stature of it.
Nonetheless, the City Council has embarked on a six-to-nine-month public-input process to see if the city should build a new city hall at a new location. In that event, the current building would have a new use, the city has said.
At last night’s council budget meeting, Prosser spent some time lamenting how much the city will face in annual insurance costs on the May’s Island building and the flood-damaged library and Paramount Theatre.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Veterans Commission’s Welch said the commission decided this week to defer to FEMA and “let” the city be the eligible recipient of the FEMA and state funds.
The commission, “rather than bickering,” wants to move forward and get the May’s Island building renovated, Welch said.
Even if, he added, the issue of who owns the building is still a matter of debate.