Once a tourist destination, a former auto museum could be the future hub of city operations for Canal Winchester.
After months of closed-door sessions with Canal Winchester City Council, Mayor Mike Ebert is seeking permission to purchase the former Bob McDorman Automotive Museum at 45 E. Waterloo St. for $2.4 million. Council heard the first reading Dec. 2 of an ordinance granting that authorization.
The city has until Feb. 12 to close on the property.
The sale price for the nearly 24,000-square-foot building originally was listed at $3.2 million, Lucas Haire, city development director, told council members during their Dec. 2 work session.
"The proposed purchase would allow us to prepare for growth and solve a number of issues that are space-related," he said. "With our municipal operations, we are out of office space currently in that building. We're housing Audra (DiOrio, clerk of council) in a hallway, in a converted office space. So that's one of the challenges that we have."
The current municipal building at 36 S. High St. and Town Hall, 10 N. High St., could be repurposed for other needs, but those plans aren't clear yet.
If council agrees to purchase the 1.29-acre McDorman site, Haire said the neighboring Frances Steube Community Center, built in the 1980s, would be torn down, making way for additional public parking, which has been an ongoing concern for residents.
"Our intention would be to relocate municipal operations to the building and to relocate the community center, which is currently located on Trine Street, and to relocate the council chambers (in Town Hall) all within that space, and then we would have additional space for another tenant that would be complementary use," he said. "It would be about 8,000 square feet for that."
According to the proposed contract, the seller, Alice McDorman, would finance the sale on a 10-year term at 4% interest. The city would make 40 quarterly payments of approximately $73,000, Haire said.
Contract negotiations for the property began in August, with Haire noting that constructing a new municipal building could cost as much as $6 million.
Amanda Jackson, city finance director, said funding for the purchase would come from the general fund. She said the city is "in a good place to take on debt."
Once the purchase is made, the plan is to seek a company that will design and renovate the property, which Haire estimates could cost an additional $2 million.
McDorman, a longtime Canal Winchester Chevrolet dealer who died in 2015, once had hundreds of classic cars, with an affection for Corvettes. It was his dream to build a standalone automotive museum, which opened in July 2014, based around his collection of automotive memorabilia.
McDorman was the longtime owner of Bob McDorman Chevrolet in Canal Winchester, which he sold in 2011. It now operates as Jeff Wyler Chevrolet.
Ebert said he "didn't know what to expect" when he approached McDorman's widow, Alice, with the $2.4 million offer. She accepted within a week.
"I know Mr. McDorman wanted the city to have the building," Ebert said. "I do know that."