Chanhassen Historical Society officials have asked to use the Old Village Hall building, owned by the city of Chanhassen, rent-free.

The last commercial tenant paid $5,400 a year, as well as the utilities of gas, water, sewer and electric, which averaged $4,106 per year in 2017 and 2018. Historical society officials said they would be willing to contribute a portion of utility costs.

“I wanted to make them aware we’re a nonprofit, non-revenue-generating organization,” said Mary Osborne, a Chanhassen Historical Society board member, who spoke to the council at its July 8 council meeting. “Doing both rent and utilities is out of the question.”

With the space on West 78th Street, adjacent to Historic St. Hubert Church, historical society members explained that the group could be more visible in the community and open its doors for programs, events and visitors.

Mayor Elise Ryan thanked Osborne for the presentation and assured her and the historical society that the City Council will include it in discussion during its upcoming city budget meetings.

“We appreciate you being here and the information you provide,” Ryan said. “What we would like to do, it’s a consideration as we move through our process.

“We recognize the (community) interest and what you provide the city and you will be a part of discussion.”

It was the second time the historical society has brought the proposal to the City Council. Society President Paula Atkins and board member Jack Atkins spoke to the council during its June 24 work session meeting.

The historical society would provide an annual report to the city on its progress and activities and could pay a portion of the building’s utility costs if the city requested.

Ryan referenced the work session, explaining the council’s reaction “wasn’t a no.”

Osborne told the council that the historical society would like to take stewardship of the historic Village Hall, to give the organization a physical address and validity “to make its goals attainable.” Those goals include increasing the organization’s visibility in the community, and ability to advance the organization’s mission to preserve history.

The Chanhassen Historical Society had opened the Village Hall to the public during the city’s July 4 celebration, Osborne told the council. “An overwhelming number of people came in,” demonstrating what a marriage of Village Hall and the historical society could be as stewards of the facility.

CATALYST

Later in the week, Atkins and Osborne met in the Old Village Hall to show some of the exhibits and artifacts that are currently stored in the building. When it was opened to the public during the Fourth of July, visitors signed a petition supporting the historical society’s bid to lease the building from the city. They estimate approximately 150 visitors stopped by that day, many for the first time.

The Old Village Hall was originally built in 1896 for a cost of $187.73, not including the bell or the jail, which continues to be a popular attraction for visitors.

Over the years its uses changed with the times, for City Council meetings, leased as retail and office space, and used as headquarters for the former Chanhassen Chamber of Commerce. With the departure of the last tenant, the building is again available for lease.

“If we were able to lease Village Hall, we could be more active and visible in the community,” Osborne said, and could open the building for several hours on Saturdays. It would like create rotating exhibits throughout the year.

“And we have so many people who said, ‘Oh, you have no idea of the photos we have. My kids don’t want them. We should give them to you.’”

Osborne also talked to one of the first families to live the Chan Estates development (one of Chanhassen’s first developments). “They were taking photos of the street every other week. It’s like a timeline for when it was developed.”

“I love to see the growth of Chanhassen and looking across the street at the dinner theater and the new development,” Osborne said. “I understand it’s growing like crazy, but I remember it at 350 people and I remember almost everyone who lived here. But we have to hold on history.”

Reporter

Unsie Zuege is an award-winning multimedia journalist, who enjoys community journalism, bibimbop, Netflix, Trivia Mafia and snuggling tiny dogs, not necessarily in that order.

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