Virginia Council backs street closure for county building
The Virginia City Council Tuesday night voted 6-1 in favor of vacating a downtown street to make room for an $18 million county government services center. The outcome, which remained uncertain even through a public hearing that saw nearly unanim...
The Virginia City Council Tuesday night voted 6-1 in favor of vacating a downtown street to make room for an $18 million county government services center.
The outcome, which remained uncertain even through a public hearing that saw nearly unanimous support for the county project, clears the way for bonds to be sold in early 2018 to finance the project with construction starting next spring.
St. Louis County wants to close one block of First Street in Virginia between Third and Fourth avenues west to make room for the new center and outdoor plaza.
The building is still in the concept stages, but plans call for a 65,000-square-foot facility that would consolidate county offices in a more energy-efficient, sustainable and user-friendly manner, consolidating 15 different county departments, county officials said.
Officials say without the street closure they can't build the center in the downtown location and would have to move the project elsewhere, possibly the site of the old Days Inn Hotel along U.S. Highway 53 in Eveleth. The county obtained that property due to unpaid taxes and demolition is proceeding for the dilapidated 1970s hotel.
The street vacation required a supermajority vote of at least 5-2 to advance. Past votes on the issue had ended 4-3.
But more than a dozen city residents spoke in favor of the downtown project, many saying the city can't afford to lose the stream of people the county offices draw. Ultimately, most councilors agreed, and only Councilor Nevada Littlewolf voted against the street vacation.
Losing one block downtown "is a small compromise, to keep the county offices and all that investment in downtown Virginia," Mayor Larry Cuffe told the News Tribune.
Tony Mancuso, director of the county's property management department, said options other than building out into the street, such as increasing from two to three stories tall, were too expensive and unworkable because they would spread public services up beyond the first floor.
The county and city must pursue an environmental and historic review before work can begin tearing down the old Northland Office Center where many of the county's services are now housed. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The new building would be constructed in what is now a county parking lot, across from City Hall and the historic county courthouse. The building would extend into what is now First Street, and a pedestrian plaza - a town-square-like space - is planned to connect all of the government buildings in the immediate area. A parking lot would go where the Northland Office Building now stands.