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The Morton Mandan Public Library Board voted unanimously last week in favor of occupying the east half of the former Central Market building on West Main in Mandan, as proposed in a concept being dubbed “The Railyard.”

On Tuesday night, the city commission held a lengthy discussion, which became heated at times, whether or not to move forward with The Railyard. They ultimately decided more public input is needed to make their decision.

Last summer, the city purchased the former Central Market and Thrifty White Drug properties for $1.5 million, using funds from the Mandan Supplemental Environmental Projects Trust, and hired ICON Architectural Group to develop a concept for the vacant spaces.

First proposed as a standalone open market building, ICON’s most recent renditions split the former grocery store into a modern library, occupying 14,000 square feet, and an event hall, occupying 19,000 square feet, with potential for shared conference space and restrooms.

The city's intent is for the Morton Mandan Public Library to vacate its freight house location and move across the street to occupy the east portion of the former Central Market building. The library's board of trustees determined the space fits its needs.

The event hall, which would occupy the west portion of the former Central Market building, would provide an indoor space for public and private celebrations, such as wedding receptions and small trade shows.

The existing building would be used to create the modern library and event hall, with numerous windows cut in to give it a more open feel.

An additional mixed-use, multistory building would be built on the former Central Market property, with the opportunity for commercial space at street level and upper-level lifestyle apartments complete with underground parking.

Potentially, the city could sell the freight house building and the former drugstore, and use the funds to help develop The Railyard.

Commissioner Shauna Laber said she feels more public input is needed to gauge the public’s interest in the $6 million project. She’s also interested in issuing a request for proposal for the space set aside for the event hall.

“It seems as though there’s a vacuum between the perception on this side of the bench of what’s going on with public input and what the public thinks is happening with public input,” she said. “I think maybe we should work on having a better public input session or declaring it specifically for this project.”

Mayor Tim Helbling said he is in favor of The Railyard and isn’t interested in continuing to kick the can down the road.

“All this is is basically replacing the event space that we had at the community center with something that’s a little bit better, in a better location, to try to drive business to downtown Mandan,” he said. “We could keep kicking the can down the road, ask for input after input. We were elected to make decisions and these are the types of decisions we have to make.”

Commissioner Dennis Rohr said he’s concerned about the potential for high financial risk to the city, as well as competing with other local businesses who specialize in events, such as weddings.

“We also have to be somewhat cognizant of Baymont Inn, the Moose and the Eagles. They have events too. We don’t want to take a lot away from them in how this is applied and how this is formatted out,” he said.

Representatives from the Baymont Inn & Suites, as well as the Mandan Eagles Club, were present at Tuesday’s city commission meeting and both voiced concerns about a new event hall taking away from their business.

“The library part, there’s no competition there. But you open an event center, you’re going to be in direct competition with the Baymont, the Comfort Inn, the Eagles, the Moose,” said Bruce Lovdal, representing the Mandan Eagles Club.

Commissioner Scott Davis said he's in favor of the project, but is open to other suggestions to reimagine the space.

“Had we not had the opportunity to do this, who knows what such a market could’ve been. We have grass growing in the parking lot. Who’s going to maintain that? It’s just an eyesore,” he said. “If there’s a better idea, let’s hear it. Bring it. I’m all ears.”

The city commission has not yet approved The Railyard. They encourage citizens to attend their next meeting, June 5, to provide input prior to their decision.

(Reach Cheryl McCormack at 701-250-8264 or cheryl.mccormack@bismarcktribune.com.)​

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General Assignment Reporter