Community Center in talks to be sold

The city of Grinnell has entered into talks with the Des Moines-based Hubbell Realty Company concerning the sale of Grinnell Community Center located at 927 Fourth St. Although neither party has announced the status of the purchase or plans for the future business, there has been a lot of speculation that it may be converted into a small hotel or an apartment building.

The community center is located on Fourth St. Photo by Parker Van Nostrand.

The community center is located on Fourth St. Photo by Parker Van Nostrand.

Most recently, Grinnell City Council held public hearings last week regarding the sale of the community center.

There were many factors leading up to the discussion of selling the community center to Hubble Realty. Although the community center is a 125,000 square foot building, only 12 city employees actually work there. The city had to lease out most of the building so they can cover the cost of utilities.

“It’s still a money pit. We just got done spending three-quarters of $1 million on a heating and cooling system,” said Grinnell Mayor Gordon Canfield. He continued, “[The building] is not efficient for heating or cooling despite the fact that we got the most efficient heating and cooling system for it that we could use. It’s still not built like modern buildings are.”

The high costs associated with maintaining the community center also led city council to consider selling the building.

“Five years ago, [city council] started seriously thinking about what we could do with this building because it is just way too much for the taxpayers to handle,” Canfield explained. “It costs more and more money to operate this building and tax money is where it comes from.”

However, the sale of the community center is not anticipated to leave any of the offices currently held in the community space without office space. Since the city leases office space at market rates, any entity current leasing from the city would also be able to afford a different location.

The predicted impact of the new business depends on what it becomes. If Hubbell were to buy the building, it would be eligible for historical tax credits that would help offset some of the costs that the company might encounter from renovating an older building.

If the building is converted into apartments, it would be another step towards meeting the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce’s priority to increase membership and have people working and living in Grinnell. Similarly, if the community center becomes a small hotel, it would still contribute to the Chamber’s initiative to increase tourism. The Chamber of Commerce was unavailable for comment.

The community center was first built in 1923 when it served as the local junior high school. During the 1970s, the school board sold the building to city council for $1 because it was prohibited from giving the property to the city free of charge since they were technically separate entities.

Canfield, a former junior high student in the present-day community center, noted how fortunate the city council was for securing the building. “It’s been quite a bargain. There are three floors to this building, an auditorium and a gymnasium,” he said.

While the building’s form and function have changed over time, it is still considered an important venue for the city. Apart from holding the offices of 12 of the city’s employees, the community center also serves as a home to the local organizations and agencies that lease space from the city, including Prairie Lakes Church and the New Horizons Alternative High School.

Despite being based in Des Moines, Hubbell Realty is familiar with Grinnell. Presently, the company is undertaking a project at the Spaulding Center for Transportation, converting part of the building into apartments. A Hubbell Realty representative was unavailable for comment due to the community center project being in its early stages.