Jefferson County Commissioners have approved a $ 150,000 forgivable loan to the Fort Worden Public Development Authority that will be used to explore what is needed to renovate a former barracks into dormitory-style housing for workers at the fort.
The commissioners initially approved a grant of $ 150,000 for the same project in 2019, but the PDA never used the grant and it expired.
While the original request for $ 150,000 was approved as a grant two years ago, Fort Worden PDA executive director David Timmons has since requested that it be re-granted in the form of a loan. – grant, which would be converted into a grant if the organization could meet certain funding. goals.
Funding will be used for a complete overhaul of Building 203 to map renovation needs. The 10-year loan would be structured to have deferred interest for the first three years, with interest and principal payments paid over the remaining seven years of the project, if the PDA ultimately decides not to continue with the renovations.
If the project is funded within the first three years, the loan would be canceled.
The renovations would provide sleeping areas on the first floor for 32 to 64 seasonal employees and students, and up to 100 beds on the second floor that would be used for the large group activities that Centrum and other entities organize on the fort.
The PDA plans to get historic tax credits, like those used for the Makers Square project, to pay for the renovation.
Renovations to the building are currently estimated at $ 9 million, with a third of that coming from tax credits, according to Timmons.
The 19,344 square foot century-old barracks has 32 rooms and a
Sleeping capacity of 136 people. The interior was previously converted to a juvenile treatment facility in the 1960s, but the electrical, plumbing and heating systems are outdated.
The county’s Public Infrastructure Fund board met earlier this month to review the funding request and recommended loan approval.
The loan application raised some concerns before it was approved by commissioners on Monday.
Tom Thiersch said the Fort Worden PDA – which has been on the verge of financial ruin since last year due to declining revenues amid the COVID-19 pandemic and debt brought on by the money transfer intended for construction projects towards day-to-day costs. day-to-day operations – should not receive public money until the PDA gets its finances in order.
The PDA is currently undergoing an audit by the State Auditor’s Office and the results of a fraud investigation have not yet been made public.
“If you give them a loan, do you really think they’re going to pay it back? Thiersch asked the commissioners. “The PDA, as far as I’m concerned, deserves nothing in terms of public funding until it has passed a clear audit.
“This organization – it’s a poster for mischief, mischief, embezzlement of public funds,” he said.
“This place is a mess. It does not deserve any support from public funds until they get their finances back on track.
“It would be better if there were serious repercussions for the people who screwed up this place; the board of directors and all those responsible for making decisions on this subject, ”he added.
Thiersch urged the board to reject the request for the public infrastructure loan.
“It’s just not the right thing to do right now,” he said.
After further discussion on the loan application, the commissioners voted to approve the loan.
“I congratulate them for taking it on,” Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour said of the renovation project.