Police Station for Rent?

RIDGEWAY – How much is Ridgeway’s police presence in a prime piece of downtown real estate worth? Perhaps not quite as much as Town Council would like, once Norfolk Southern takes its cut.

In a special called meeting Tuesday night, Council debated the pros and cons of relocating the Police Department from 160 Palmer St. (Ridgeway’s “Main Street”) to either the vacant building at 128 Palmer St. (formerly Just Around the Corner) or into the Century House at 170 S. Dogwood Ave., and then renting out 160 Palmer St.

Councilman Russ Brown put the suggestion up for discussion Tuesday night shortly after Council agreed to recommend replacing the heating and air system at the police station with a single window unit. That move, Brown said, would save the town $500 a month on utility costs at the station. Leasing the building out to a business, Brown said, could net the town an additional $600 a month. But not without a hitch.

“If we rent that building, some of that is going to have to go to the railroad,” Mayor Charlene Herring said during the debate. “The (rent) would have to be higher and I don’t know if anyone would want to pay that high a fee for that small a building.”

According to the terms of the lease the Town signed earlier this year with Norfolk Southern, which owns the land underneath the police station, half of the rent would go to the railroad company. In addition, the Town would be on the hook for a one-time fee of $750 for subleasing any of the buildings that currently stand on the railroad’s property.

“That’s the cost of doing business,” Brown said. “You (Herring) wanted that lease and now we’ve agreed to it, we’re going to have to give up some of that money.”

Herring’s biggest argument against relocating the Police Department, however, was the value she said the Palmer Street presence had.

“Sometimes when you save money, what do you give up? The visibility there is so important, especially in a small town,” Herring said. “We could move it to Just Around the Corner, but it’s just not as visible. I think it’s still the best option to keep it on (Palmer) Street.”

Councilman Doug Porter agreed with Herring’s visibility argument, as far as moving the department into the Century House, but said he would consider a move to the former Just Around the Corner location.

“I agree it’s good to have a (police) presence on Main Street,” Brown said, “but we do have two patrol cars. We could park one on (Palmer) Street and park one here.”

One benefit of moving the police station to the Century House, Councilman Heath Cookendorfer said, would finally be access to the internet for the department – something for which he has long been a proponent.

“We are so in the Dark Ages here in the town,” Cookendorfer said. “For our police officers to not have internet is a disgrace.”

The Town would also benefit from the department sharing utilities with Town Hall, Brown said.

“The most beneficial place is here (the Century House),” Brown said. “Main Street is a big draw, and right now you’ve got a building (the police station) that sits empty 90 percent of the time. Police do most of their work out on the street.”

The Century House, Cookendorfer agreed, would just be a “placed for him to do his paperwork.”

“It makes the most sense moving here,” Cookendorfer said. “But, we don’t want to make a rash decision.”

“I think it’s something we need to study,” Herring concurred. “We have some data to gather, some more research to do. We don’t have all the facts about how much we’d get if we did rent that building.”

Brown suggested renegotiating the Norfolk Southern lease in an effort to reduce their piece of the action.

“At the time we signed the contract, (renting the police station) wasn’t a consideration; now that it is they may be able to reconsider it,” Brown said. “If we’re good tenants with them they may consider making an exclusion or an amendment to the contract to reduce that expense they charge us.”

 

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