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Bowling Green may join Guard to build armory, community center

BOWLING GREEN - The Ohio Army National Guard plans to work with the suburban Cincinnati village of Woodlawn to build an armory that will double as a community center.

It's the first partnership of its kind in the state and Bowling Green officials are hoping to be involved in the second.

This summer, National Guard officials took Mayor John Quinn and two city representatives to Minnesota, where several armories have been built in conjunction with local communities.

Because the Guard doesn't use the facility on a daily basis, the communities are able to offer everything from day care to recreation to activities for senior citizens at the armories.

For Bowling Green, which has been trying to build a community center for two decades, it's an attractive offer. The looming question is where to locate it.

“It's a joint decision, but we obviously will lean very heavily in the direction the city leadership wants to go as long as the important criteria for us are met,” said Lt. Col. Steve Hummel, site selection coordinator for the Ohio Army National Guard. “We've looked at several sites. The city has presented five, and all five of them are fundamentally acceptable to us.”

While city officials are negotiating with the owner of an unidentified site considered the best of the five, a contingent of city residents still believes the former Hills' department store at the Woodland Mall remains the best location.

The vacant store was identified as the best site for a community center last year, but city council decided not to buy the property because it did not feel it could ask voters to approve a sales-tax hike to finance the biggest portion of the $12 million project.

With the National Guard's interest, the mall's owner, St. Louis-based THF Realty Inc., has offered the vacant store and four acres to the city at no cost.

Ken Rieman, who co-chaired the committee that studied the issue for more than a year, asked city council recently to consider the mall's new offer.

The space could be ready for fitness and social activities immediately, he said. The National Guard then could build a gymnasium and classrooms onto the former store.

“It really is the absolute best place for everybody,” Mr. Rieman said.

The plan would provide more space for the city at a lower cost; it would attract people to the mall, and it would put the National Guard in a facility that exposes rather than segregates its members to the general public, he said.

“I think we all have the same objective: This is a chance to go forward on the community center, and we don't want to lose it,” Mayor Quinn said.

City officials are negotiating with the owner of a parcel on the northwest side of the city that is being offered free, Mayor Quinn said.

If that site does not pan out, the city most likely would work its way up the list, which could put the mall site back in the running.

“Maybe council will decide the mall should come back into the picture sooner, but with the present pecking order, that's just not where we are,” he said.

Lieutenant Colonel Hummel said he sees advantages for the city at the mall site, but he would not say which site the Guard prefers.

“At this juncture, our senior leadership is still evaluating the top options, and they hope to communicate with the city in just a few days,” he said.

The National Guard would like to secure federal funding for the Bowling Green armory in the 2002 budget so the facility can be under construction in 2003.

“That means we're a little behind,” Lieutenant Colonel Hummel said. “We need to have a site picked pretty fast - hopefully by the end of November.”

The National Guard has approximately $4 million to spend on the new armory, which would replace its 1910 armory on Wooster Street as well as a soon-to-be-shuttered armory in Napoleon.

It would pay for the kind of structure it needs, while it would be up to the city to pay for the “enhancements,” such as a floor appropriate for a gymnasium.

“One of the beautiful things about this concept is it's designed to be customized for each community,” Lieutenant Colonel Hummel said.

“Woodlawn has identified conceptually the kind of activities and features and components that would be there. They've identified a funding source through their current village reserves and projected issuance of municipal bonds.”

Mayor Quinn said the city has no money in the 2001 budget for a community center, and he does not foresee asking voters to approve a tax hike to pay for it.

Still, he said, the first hurdle is nailing down a site.

“The important thing is we build some kind of consensus that we can all go forward on,” he said. “I just think we need to go with whatever site builds that consensus.”

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