Pioneer Hall, built in 1921 at 73 Winburn Way, is still used for generally the same purposes it was intended for: to provide space for private and public events. According to a city staff report, it served as a USO gathering spot during World War II and after the war, became Ashland Parks and Recreation (APR) Department headquarters. Since then it’s transferred ownership, but stayed within the city and APR.
APR may be taking over the building again, as it was the only entity to submit a proposal for use of the building by the city’s Sept. 19 deadline for submission of responses to a request for proposals, according to Adam Hanks, city administrator assistant. APR has managed the building by renting it and performing general maintenance since the 1980s at a financial loss to the department.
In a staff report for Monday’s Parks and Recreation Commission study session, Michael Black, APR director, wrote that because the building is used as a winter shelter, it decreases the amount of time that it can be rented. Paired with the agreement that American Legion and Boy Scout Troup 112 don’t pay fees for use of the building, it costs more to maintain the building than APR receives in rental payments.
APR currently pays the City $15,000 through the parks fund annually to rent the building, plus the cost of maintenance.
The city released its request for solicitation Aug. 17, according to the report. The goal is to find a party that will lease the building long-term from the city while also taking responsibility for maintenance and repairs.
But it appears APR wants more than a lease.
“We are interested in taking over the building and having it dedicated as a parks and recreation building, not just renting it from the city,” Black said in an interview. “Based on some discussions with a donor, there could be an opportunity to improve the building, but we definitely want to make sure the city has other options for a homeless shelter.”
Hanks said there’s still a lot of internal staff work on the city’s part that needs to be done before the solicitation moves forward. He said, depending on the proposal, the city may want to schedule a meeting to discuss it with APR.
Black wrote in the staff report that APR would continue to operate the building in a similar way to how it is currently operated, but there would be some updates made to increase its curb appeal for potential rentals.
“Simple items, like new paint on the walls, replacement of stained curtains, minor kitchen upgrades would enhance the rental opportunities and bring in more revenue,” Black wrote in the report.
The possibility the city may decide to use Pioneer Hall as a winter shelter for half the week November through April will also determine how quickly this solicitation comes to fruition. Hanks stressed that as of now, it’s just a solicitation. Nothing has been determined or negotiated.
Potentially, the proposal to use it as a winter shelter could be negotiated with APR.
“In this case, it’s more in the family, because it is Ashland Parks and Rec and not an outside organization,” Hanks said.
Black said in an interview that APR’s opinion is that it could be better used as a community center than a temporary shelter.
“If we take it over, we don’t think that the uses that we have planned and the shelter use are consistent with each other,” Black said. “We are fully supportive of the city finding a shelter in another location, we’d do anything we could to help them do that, but finding another historic community center is a lot harder to do.
“There aren’t any others out there that are like Pioneer Hall,” Black said.
Formal public discussions on Pioneer Hall’s future should begin in the late fall, Hanks said.
“I think when the city knows what they’re going to do with it, then they can make a decision on the RFP,” Black said. “We’ve put our solicitation out there, so they know what we’re willing to do and what our ideas are.”