July 16, 2007

Winsted council disappointed with tour of historic city hall

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

More than a dozen people were given a tour of the historic city hall by its owner, Todd Colonna, at last Tuesday’s special Winsted City Council meeting.

The tour was given because of concerns the city has had regarding the slow-moving restoration of the building’s interior, and because the building remains unoccupied.

Nothing significant was produced from the tour except an update of the interior construction and the building’s owner being given another 30-day reprieve.

After Colonna was hit with a barrage of questions which showed his vision was not the same as the city’s in regard to the completion and rental of the building, the council asked him to submit architectural plans for the completion of the building to the city’s building inspector Rob Beckfeld, within 30 days.

The council did push forward with its efforts to gain at least an agreement on a timeline, but nothing happened.

Council Member Tom Wiemiller even asked, “If someone came to you with a reasonable offer, what would you do? Would you sell?”

Colonna replied, “No, I would not. I love the building. I don’t want to give you guys the impression I don’t.”

It is also where Colonna and his wife plan to make their home in a few years, after their children are on their own.

Although most of those present felt that the outside of the building has improved since Colonna purchased the building for $1 in October of 2001, that was not the general consensus for the building’s interior.

There were many negative comments made by council members regarding appearance and construction as it toured both the downstairs and upstairs of the building.

Council Member Bonnie Quast was the most vocal about the speed and quality of work that has been done so far.

“I am disappointed for the city hall as it is and disappointed for the excitement that you seemed to have when you first came to us. Your enthusiasm does not seem to be here anymore,” Quast said.

Quast was also concerned about the amount of time it would take Colonna to have the building ready if he did have a renter who was willing to move in. She pointed out wiring and door frames not completed. She estimated it would take Colonna a year to be ready for a renter.

Colonna disagreed. He felt if there was someone interested, he could be ready in 15 to 30 days.

Colonna was also willing to lower the rent if there is someone really interested in renting out the building downstairs.

Mary Wiemiller, who was on the historic city hall’s preservation committee, spoke of her loyalty to the building after all the committee went through to save it, and was concerned about the building remaining empty.

“The State Office of Historic Preservation had grave concerns that the longer the building is unoccupied, it becomes more endangered because in people’s minds, it becomes uninhabitable, you lose the community’s support, and the building is endangered again,” Mary Wiemiller said.

“The office of preservation said that a project this size with a smaller space like this should have a suitable tenant within seven years,” Mary Wiemiller said. “They would have expected the entire project to be finished and to have both floors occupied. They said that is what they are seeing with historical rehab projects. They are very concerned about the condition of the building and felt it doesn’t bode well for the building to be empty.”

Since Colonna has had the building, he has put on a new roof, replaced what was water damaged, new windows have been put in, some structural changes have been made, and the downstairs has been painted.

Colonna felt that the council did not see all of the things that he has done.

Mayor Steve Stotko was disappointed in what was finished and the time frame.

“The work is not what I expected. This is a disaster up here (second floor). I think we expected more for six years. Some companies can start and finish in six years. I am disappointed in how far you are,” Stotko said.

The fact that Colonna now lives in Florida with his family has the council apprehensive about how much time he will spend working on the city hall in the future.

Colonna admitted to only working a total of 10 days so far this year. His timeline for completion was five more years, he said.

City Administrator Brent Mareck thought five years was more than the city is willing to wait.

“I think that is where the rubber meets the road because the contract does spell out for this to be completed when the city sold the building to you for a dollar,” Mareck said.

“You are asking them to invest in you for this dollar for 12 years for a return on that investment,” Mareck said.

“We are also getting stories of you not calling people back who want to rent the lower level. If you call a landlord three times, they aren’t as likely to want to rent,” Mareck said.

Council Member Dave Mochinski believed that Colonna had reservations about allowing certain businesses to rent the city hall which was causing some of his hesitation in getting back to people.

Mary Wiemiller added she is disheartened by Colonna’s vision being more important than the building’s preservation.

Mochinski responded to that by saying, “Our vision is more important.”

Mochinski’s comments about the downstairs paint peeling and its woodwork being painted brought further comments from Mareck.

“All interior changes were to be brought to the mayor and the council,” Mareck said. Because the changes were not, it was a violation of the contract, according to Mareck.

“All the council is trying to do is find an amicable solution,” Mareck said.

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