The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

FEMA picks City Hall over Vet’s Commission in dust-up over flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building

In City Hall, FEMA, Jim Prosser on March 10, 2009 at 9:05 pm

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.

  1. Prosser and his processors are growing old. And Rick remains a high quality reporter, but he needs a headline writer.

  2. Hmm. Insurance costs? Over $1M for flood insurance on the building? Yes that is what they have been told. How many bids? One. Why? Not sure. I quoted it for fun at the office one day, $25M in flood coverage for about $125,000 per year. Why isn’t anyone asking any questions of Casey Drew, Mike Shoger, Jim Flitz and Jim Prossor? I guess we just need to wait for new leadership on January 1st 2010. How much damage can they do between now and then?

  3. I’m disappointed in FEMA. The City leases offices from the Veterans’ Commision so you would think it would be obvious who the rightful owner of the building is. FEMA did not determine who OWNS the building only who will control the money. I do not trust the City Government to use this 20-30 million to renovate the building. and hey, didn’t the City have a plan for new offices and a new building MONTHS before the flood hit? Veterans stand up for yourselves and fight for this historical building.

  4. Lonster,
    Thanks for paying attention. I’ve shortened a couple of headlines and will work to get it under control. — Rick

  5. Pete Welch is right and this city council is once again wrong. Go figure.

  6. you know it will be a big waste of tax dollars to repay people to build there homes and then buy out now it will cost the city more money to do so a real good plan you have there

  7. its funny that the city council need to have some one they can pass the the buck to and now the mangers need to hire more help as he cant do the job we hired him for i wonder why he left minnioseta to work for cr

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