McClendon wants to buy building for new police station
City council approves funds for purchase in split vote
By JOHN RECH
The City of West Memphis has undertaken many renovation projects for its civic buildings over the last two years to go along with four new municipal buildings that were constructed in the last year: The Civic Auditorium received a fresh facelift, the city shop got fresh paint, new pluming fixtures and an upgraded breakroom, Main Street West Memphis installed new murals and its centerpiece Watershed, and the city celebrated new homes for the library, two fire houses and the District Court.
It doesn’t stop there. The city plans to launch its multimillion- dollar park renovation initiative later this year.
The flurry of city spending on upgrades contiued last week, as Mayor Marco Mc-Clendon presented a plan to buy a 50-year-old building and give it new lease on life with a fresh renovation to house the police headquarters. The mayor gained approval from the West Memphis City Council to spend up to $465,000 to attempt to purchase the vacated dollar store between the new library and and existing police department.
The need for a new police headquarters became obvious on a tour of the building. The current department was crammed into an old two story bank on the corner of Seventh Street and Broadway. Working space has been tight. Dispatchers work on top of one another. Offices are small. The briefing room provided little elbow room for shift meetings and gearing up for patrol. The roof has continually leaked into the records room on the ground level. Evidence is locked up in different spots all around the building including the old bank vault.
The vacated dollar store is up for sale as part of an
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out-of-state bankruptcy case. According to Councilwoman Helen Harris and the mayor, an interested buyer stood to compete with the city for the building. A blood bank has shown interest in the location and that irritated some of the ward representatives.
“I don’t want to see a blood bank in this part of town, right there next to our new library,” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Lorraine Mohammed.
Council members spent 45 minutes rolling around the merits of the proposal in its pre-council work meeting and the official business meeting.
The mayor promised to make a modest initial offer but wanted the flexibility of a bigger bankroll should competitive bidding erupt over the downtown property.
City Attorney Mike Stephenson told city council the bankruptcy court would seek an offer that would “not shock the conscience of the court.”
Councilman Wayne Croom wanted the city to slow their roll after all the recent new building projects.
“Then to upgrade that building for any type of offices, you’ll have another half-million dollars tied up in that building,” said Croom. “I disagree with pulling money out of reserves. We are spending too much money too quickly. I think we need to take a breathe.”
Budget chairman Councilman Tracy Catt thought the price tag was too much for the 18,000 square foot building. He thought the idea of buying the building for the police was good, but disagreed with the big funding request. Catt wanted to spare some of the funds for repairs to the building.
“I think its best of the property belongs to the city,” said Catt.
Catt thought the funds were available without dipping into reserves.
“To me, the logical place for this to come from to prevent you from incurring debt is the capital account,” said Catt.
Catt offered an amendment to cap the funds at $250,000 which failed on a deadlocked vote with one abstention. Council voted that down and opted to entirely fund the mayor’s request. Voting for the amended lower amount were Councilmen Tracy Catt, Wayne Croom, James Holt and Charles Wheeless. Helen Harris passed. Melanie Hutchinson, Lorraine Mohammed, Willis Mondy and Davis Murray voted against the lower amount.
The vote for McClendon’s ask of $465,000 ask ultimately passed on a split vote. Again Catt, Croom, and Wheeless voted against the full request with Harris, Holt, Hutchinson, Mohamed, Mondy, Murray voting in favor.