ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph commissioners will need to decide by the end of next month if the city wants to purchase the former lighthouse keeper’s house from the federal government, or if the parties will just be two ships that passed in the night.
City Manager John Hodgson reported Monday that St. Joseph has received a purchase price of $445,000 for the brick duplex at 103 North Pier Street, along the St. Joseph River and adjacent to the pier and restored lighthouses.
“It keeps a dwelling that is connected to the people who made the lighthouses work,” Hodgson said.
The purchase price comes along with around $1 million in estimated restoration and rehabilitation costs over the next several years, commissioners learned last month.
“Those are pretty good-sized numbers,” Hodgson said.
The property had been used as Coast Guard housing, but has been vacant for several years. City officials are considering a purchase to use the building as a cultural and historical center. They have until the end of November to decide, which Hodgson acknowledged is a short window of opportunity.
The most urgent repairs have an estimated cost of around $115,000 and include roof repairs, downspout extensions, demolition of deteriorated interior items, water in the basement, replacing the boiler and three radiators, and some electrical repairs.
Work that would need to be done within five to 10 years is slated at at around $285,000, according to the contractors, and projects that could be undertaken to complete the restoration come in at around $431,000. There would also be ongoing maintenance costs, and a purchase by the city would mean a loss of tax revenue.
The community has numerous competing needs, such as streets, water and sewer lines, parks and facility maintenance, Hodgson pointed out. He said they could consider seeking private donors, as was done with the lighthouse restoration, which raised almost $2 million.
Parking also will be an issue, and visitors would likely use the Tiscornia Beach lot, the city manager said, accept for some handicap accessible spaces at the building. Officials will need to consider how the development would affect neighbors, as well.
Hodgson threw out the idea that the structure could be moved 200 yards, to be closer to the pier, and he has forwarded that possibility to federal officials, and is waiting on an answer. The lot could then be sold and kept on the tax rolls, he said.
Commissioner Jeff Richards agreed that this is a lot of money, although it is less than what was spent to restore the catwalks and lighthouses, which were given to the city as surplus with the agreement that they would be restored.
The lighthouse project was paid for mostly with private donations, and Richards said he would like to see this go forward in the same way. He added that he doesn’t want to see any city money go into the project that would affect infrastructure repairs.
Hodgson said that once state and federal offices approve restoration plans, St. Joseph could pursue grants or undertake fundraising.
Commissioner Laura Goos said she thinks it is important to get as much public input on the proposal as possible, either at a public hearing or meeting, or with an online survey.
Mayor Mike Garey commented that it’s a challenging issue, and it’s a chance that won’t come again.
“When it’s gone, it’s gone,” Garey said. Commissioners also need to be fiscally responsible and have a business plan if they decide to proceed, he said.
“We don’t want to throw together something that becomes an albatross,” Garey said.
Goos wanted to know if the federal government would be willing to donate the property, as they did with the lighthouses.
“Is there there no chance of them giving it to us?” Goos asked.
“I’ve been trying for four years,” said Hodgson, explaining that the proceeds of a sale go to Coast Guard housing. “That’s hard to argue with.”
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak