The Chanhassen Historical Society submitted a proposal to the city to rent and use the historic Village Hall. Members of the historical society met with Chanhassen City Council at its work session meeting May 25.
“Our organization is formally requesting that the city of Chanhassen consider supporting our effort to make the landmark historic Village Hall a permanent home for the Chanhassen Historical Society to be used as a museum and education center,” the proposal stated.
The historic building was built in 1898 and formerly rented as a bookstore and as an office for the Chanhassen Chamber of Commerce. The building, located near the intersection of West 78th Street and Great Plains Boulevard in downtown Chanhassen, is 600 square feet, and still has its original jail cell, along with a bathroom. Over the last 30 years, the wood floor has been refinished and the roof replaced.
The historic building is now available as its renter Seattle Sutton’s, a diet food delivery service, has departed. Seattle Sutton’s had rented the building since 2007. According to the city staff report, the business paid monthly rent of $450, for ongoing building maintenance and repairs. The business also paid a quarterly utility fee — approximately $4,000 — for water, sewer, stormwater, snow plowing, landscaping and electrical service.
The historic society proposes that the city allow it to use the building lease-free. City Councilor Jerry McDonald asked how the historical society intended to pay for the building’s utility expenses.
Paula Atkins, president of the Chanhassen Historical Society, described visits and discussions with other local historical societies like Norwood Young America and Chaska. “Both have very fine museums,” Atkins said. “And they occupy them at no cost. The cities supply the cost of utilities. Excelsior’s historical society leases its building for $1 a year. None are asked to be a revenue stream,” Atkins continued. “We have lots of artifacts we’d love to display. Our hours would be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and staffed by volunteers.
“We consider ourselves as an asset to the community,” Atkins said. “Someone should pick up the torch to maintain our history.” Atkins described the historical society’s Cemetery Walk event that it puts on every other year and is always fully booked. “If we had a home base, we could do more events.”
The Historical Society proposed a short-term agreement of three to five years to use building lease free, “to give us time to get on our feet,” Atkins said. “The Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is willing to partner with us, at 50 years being historic now ... and the Carver County Historical Society is eager to share its programs.”
McDonald again raised the question of expenses and if the historical society had a plan for covering them.
“If we give up the $450 (rent) and give up part of the expenses, can you pay for the electric and gas?”
“Our obligation is not to develop a revenue stream but to preserve the heritage of Chanhassen,” said Jack Atkins, a board member of the historical society. “If the city covered us for three to five years, we’d be happy, but we can’t promise that now.”
McDonald asked if the historical society could provide a plan for a long-term revenue stream. “What could you show us?” McDonald asked. “Could you come back to us with a plan?”
“The other cities provide things at no charge,” Jack Atkins replied. “This is not a business venture. That’s not supposed to be its mission.”
After additional discussion, Mayor Elise Ryan spoke. “Making (the Village Hall) a historical building would be a benefit to our city. But what happens in three to five years? And then if there is no revenue stream, do we ask them to leave? It makes it challenging for city.”
“We have to decide whether or not we want to get behind and support the historical society,” Ryan said to council. “We are coming into budget season … We all understand the benefits of having a historical society. It’s a huge value and asset to the community. How does it fit into the bigger picture going forward? Those conversations are beginning in June.”