Just weeks after finally agreeing to move forward with plans to demolish the Homer Educational and Recreational Complex, or HERC building, the Homer City Council heard a proposal to turn the old education building into an innovation center.
Joshua and Jeremiah Riley of the nonprofit Grow Economy pitched the idea to the council Monday night, saying other similar facilities have been built in various rural communities in the Lower 48 using federal and state funding sources.
The idea, Joshua Riley said, was to encourage new industry by offering a space where businesses in industries such as technology and engineering, for example, could get started. The proposal noted that Homer is a desirable location for such a center because of its central location in Kachemak Bay.
“The demolition of HERC would be costly, between $750,000 and $1 million. New construction at the site would be as high as $8.2 million. However, conserving this resource will enable HERC to become a place where Homer’s past and future connect,” said Joshua Riley.
They proposed that a nonprofit entity could partner with the city to manage the facility and develop long-term funding sources.
Jeremiah Riley, speaking telephonically, said he learned about the facility after having dinner with two of the council members recently. Riley is an attorney and owner of Premise, focusing on business law, government contracts and government relations in Utah, Alaska and Washington, D.C.
Several council members, including Council Member Rachel Lord, asked if a community the size of Homer could support an innovation center as such facilities are often found in larger cities.
"I would really want to see the long-term look at sustainability of a program if there’s public money involved Homer holding a lot of responsibility and the associated risk,' said Councilmember Lord.
Councilmember Heath Smith said, that the city has already dedicated itself to spending $35,000 for a study on how to demolish the HERC building and as much as $1 million for the actual demolition. In the end, all the city would be left with for that expenditure would be an empty lot. With the innovation center proposal, it might at the very least come out with a building that is fully functional and updated.
"I think it behooves us to look at this from another angle,” said Councilmember Smith.
In other news, the city passed several ordinances refining Homer city code pertaining to public utility systems and allowing buildings up to 75 feet high in the East End mixed use district with a conditional use permit.
The city council voted against a resolution supporting the construction ad operation of the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas Project in Nikiski, which was brought to the council by councilmember Tom Stroozas.
The council expressed its gratitude to outgoing city attorney Holly Wells with the legal firm Birch, Horton, Bittner and Cherot for her many years of service to the city. Wells had served as the city’s main legal counsel for 11 years. The firm of Jermain, Dunnagan and Owens, P.C. of Anchorage was awarded the contract for general legal counsel services earlier this month.