Tuesday morning, the city’s Redevelopment Authority unanimously approved a recommendation to purchase 4.5 acres of property on West Taylor Street, from Russ Davis Wholesale. The property purchase would then facilitate development of a commercial driving facility for Northcentral Technical College in Merrill. NTC currently operates a smaller scale facility at its Wausau campus.
The vacant land fronts on West Taylor Street and is close to the existing Northcentral Technical College (NTC) training facilities. Through TID funds, the City of Merrill would purchase the property and transfer to NTC for $1. The proposed purchase price is $100,000. The property is currently assessed at $25,500.
During discussion Tuesday, Mayor Bill Bialecki indicated the recommendation to purchase came after NTC decided they were unable to afford the $100,000 purchase price firmly set by RDW.
“(NTC President) Dr. (Lori) Weyers came to me some time ago with the desire to place this facility in Merrill,” Bialecki said. “We went to Russ Davis Corporate and asked if they would donate the land. They stated they would sell for $100,000. We got back to Dr. Weyers and she decided that was beyond their budget and the project wouldn’t happen.”
As City Administrator Dave Johnson added, the company stood firm on the $100,000 asking price.
“We asked if they would take anything less and their board said no.”
Bialecki further indicated he felt the proposal would be an opportunity for the city to give back to NTC, and possibly capitalize on the economic boost brought by the NTC Public Safety Training Center of Excellence.
“I think this is a great opportunity for the city to show some reciprocity for all NTC has done for us,” he added. “It’s not going to do anything for the tax base, but it will bring people to train in Merrill much the same as the safety course has done now. The course has already brought significant revenue and this will just bring more.”
On Dec. 20, Weyers wrote a letter to Bialecki detailing NTC’s plans for a new CDL facility in Merrill to include a classroom and large learning lab. According to Weyers, the CDL program is estimated to generate over $100,000 annually in direct and indirect economic impact for the Merrill area. Also in the letter, Weyers pointed to an increased need locally for a skilled workforce in the transportation industry. According to an NTC survey, employers in Lincoln County anticipate 106 new positions and 53 saved positions over the next 10 years.
In addressing the committee on Tuesday morning, Weyers initially indicated the NTC Board of Trustees has yet to approve the project but she could guarantee it would be approved in March. Weyers then later indicated she could guarantee approval prior to the next city Common Council meeting. Weyers also indicated the project would come in two phases, with structures for classroom space to come first and a track to come later, with construction to begin as early as June. The project would take an estimated two budget cycles to be finished.
As an added benefit to the city, Weyers indicated the trucks used at the training facility would purchase all necessary diesel fuel at Merrill fuel stations.
Russ Davis Wholesale will continue to operate its produce distribution business on the three parcels the company would retain north of Commerce Street.
The measure will now be passed on to the city’s Common Council for approval at its January 10 meeting.