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City council passes resolutions on upcoming street projects and pushes back opening of Princess Theater

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

At Wednesday's St. James City Council meeting, the council passed resolutions to continue progress for the massive street improvement project, as well as for wastewater, electric, and water rates for the next four years.

The street project was supposed to take place in 2013, but due to the Highway 4 project, the project was postponed and is now scheduled to take place next year.

The extent of the project is from First Avenue South all the way up to 10th Avenue North. The railroad crossing will also be redone as part of the project.

The current street is bituminous but will be replaced by a concrete road. The water main will also be replaced and extended. The extension of the water main will be from 8th Ave North to 10th Ave North. The city will have to annex some properties on 10th Ave North to complete the project. 

The total cost of the project is projected to be $2.7 million. The county will pay $2 million. The city of St. James will pay $733,000. $122,000 will be assessed.

The council passed a resolution on the report & to call a public hearing on December 1st.

New EDA Director Andrea Gehrke also provided an update on the Polo's building plan. The Gem Den, currently located across the street on First Avenue South, will be relocating into the building at the beginning of 2021.

 The general fund has extra funds through the city manager fund, city clerk fund, and police fund to pay for the remodeling of the Polo's building shell.

The Gem Den is projected to finalize the move on December 27th, and open in its new location on January 2nd.

A lease of the building is still being worked on. 

The council also passed a resolution to acknowledge the spot left by Josh Haseman, who resigned after the last meeting.

"According to the city charter, the city council has the ability to appoint someone to this position rather than to do a special election," said City Manager Amanda Glass.

Two years of Haseman's term would be up for election if the city held a special election. The city will continue the discussion on how to move forward at the next meeting.

The last discussion of the meeting was held over the opening of the Princess Theater and how it may affect the Meals on Wheels program. The theater was slated to open on November 13th.

The theater has been closed for months due to COVID-19 and remodeling. 

"Because of the fact that we do we prepare Meals on Wheels for about 40-50 people and seeing how we share the furnace and air conditioning and all the breathable air, is there going to be a problem with the possibility of spreading COVID and having to shut Meals on Wheels down?" asked councilmember Ray Hahnfeldt Jr.

Through CARES funding, Watson's Plumbing is installing an air change and an air scrubber in the Princess Theater. The air scrubber should be installed by the time the theater opens.

"I'm just hoping we're not rushing this," said Hahnfeldt Jr. "Because everything else that people have done—restaurants, schools— where they've tried to force openings and they suddenly had to close because of COVID. This thing isn't going away and if you think it's going to be honky dory I think we're sadly mistaken."

“The city has a duty to care and protect that person," said city attorney Steve Sunde.  "If there’s any doubt that we're doing not doing everything possible to protect that person, then I would suggest we hold off."

"If we've sat tight this long I don't know why we just don't sit and wait and protect ourselves and the program," said Don Mackey.

The city would also likely lose money on opening the theater to just 50 people. The council motioned to push back the opening of the theater and will further the discussion on the opening of the Princess Theater at the next meeting on November 17th.

Other items:

- Approve Resolution- Establishing Electric Rates

- Approve Resolution- Establishing Water Rates

- Approve Resolution- Establishing Wastewater Rates

- Approve Replacing WAS (Waste Activated Sludge) Pumps

- Approve Liability Coverage Waiver Form

- Approve Request- Temporary one way on LeVee Blvd for food distribution

- Tabled AFSMCE Union Contract Term 2021-2023