Most times when police gather in a bank, it’s because of a robbery.
But in Wetumpka, the city saved $1 million by buying the former Wells Fargo building for law enforcement to use as its new headquarters, thus finding more than the shiny side of the coin in the tornado that destroyed the old police station on the west bank of the Coosa River in January.
Last week, the city council approved the purchase of the former bank at 4950 U.S. Highway 231, which had appraised at $1.5 million, for $500,000. Wells Fargo gets to keep its ATM machine at the site.
“That’s a small price to pay,” police chief Greg Benton said, literally and figuratively.
Mayor Jerry Willis, who led the effort to secure the building, wants to avoid unnecessary delays in moving the police department from cramped quarters in the city’s administration building to its new home. Willis said he signed the paperwork on the purchase Monday and expects to receive Wells Fargo’s signed agreement within 72 hours. Renovations to the 6,600-square foot building will be done in house to save money and time and Willis hopes it’s ready before Thanksgiving.
“I have put together a team that will be doing the remodeling who are already on the payroll,” he said. “We will purchase the materials in house. That will save us money and we’ll be able to get on it immediately. I hope in two to three months we will have the building set up so the police can conduct their day-to-day operations in it. Wells Fargo has been very kind to us. They gifted to us a $1 million value.”
Benton added, “He got a tremendous deal. I’m thankful to the mayor. He’s worked on it pretty religiously for a while now.”
Willis and Benton said the city plans to keep a substation in a city-owned facility off Highway 111 on the west side of the river but the location of the main station off Highway 231 is ideal for access.
“It’s a perfect location,” Willis said. “It will meet the needs of our police department and also help us better serve the traffic and people of the city of Wetumpka. We will still have a presence on the west side of the river, some type of substation so we can cover the city the way it should be covered.”
Benton said the police department can be more efficient from its new location.
“Most of the calls we make in response to traffic accidents are out here on this highway plus there are just a lot of major businesses out here,” he said.
Willis and Benton said they began thinking about a new location for police headquarters only a day or two after the tornado ravaged the old building. It was demolished in April.
“I started thinking about the building about two days after the tornado,” Willis said. “It all came together. It’s a great opportunity for us.”
Benton said he didn’t think about the Wells Fargo building at first but Willis brought him to the site about months ago after it was put on the market and asked for his opinion.
“It was a bank so it’s a pretty secure building, much more secure than the old building,” Benton said. “It’s a more modern building. We’ll do a few renovations downstairs and finish up the 1,800 square feet that is unfinished upstairs. Hopefully this week we’ll be able to get in and start the process and doing some design.”
While Benton is grateful the police department was able to operate from the second floor of the administration building since the tornado, he’s looking forward to moving.
“We tried to make it function like a police building but it’s not easy,” he said.