WORTHINGTON -- About 30 people braved wintry weather Thursday night to attend a public forum on how to utilize proceeds from the sale of Worthington Regional Hospital.

The event, hosted at Minnesota West Community and Technical College's Fine Arts Theater by the Worthington City Council, featured suggestions and comments by council members and community citizens. Among the most discussed items for potential use of hospital sale dollars were a new community center and a new YMCA.

"The main reason I'm here is to talk about Worthington's No. 1 asset ... in my mind, it's the YMCA," said Bob Jirele, a Worthington resident and a member of the District 518 school board. "Everyone is touched by the YMCA. ... We need recreation dollars spent in this community. Imagine waking up tomorrow and not having a YMCA. What would you guys do?

"I think you guys should write the YMCA a check for a million dollars," Jirele added. "Let's get this project done."

Another community member, Jerry Perkins, urged council members to consider building a community center, explaining such a facility should "provide programs and services to people around here."

"I have to agree with Jerry -- that's something our community has been lacking, and we've been pursuing that," Alderman Lyle Ten Haken said.

Ten Haken explained an events center committee has been formed and an approximate cost of between $3 million and $3.5 million given for such a facility. He said the council -- with feedback from the community -- will need to decide how to use the hospital sale dollars for such a project, and added that he currently favored moving forward with a half-cent local option sales tax referendum already planned for November.

"I think we have to be aware that $30 million will move quickly if we're not really good stewards of that money," said Alderman Ron Wood, who also expressed support of a half-cent sales tax.

"We've got the goose that laid the golden egg," Alderman Bob Petrich said. "I believe we need to leave it (hospital money) intact, so we can borrow against it. ... This is something that can go on forever if we handle it right."

Resident Dan Greve urged council members to make investments in the community "to grow and better Worthington for the future."

"Employees have a lot of choices in the job market ... and I think we need to have more amenities attracting potential employees to Worthington," said Greve, citing a new YMCA and a new senior center as examples. "For seniors, maybe they won't choose to winter in the south because they'll have a place to go and do something more than play pool and cards."

Greve also suggested development of additional revolving loan funds to help stimulate economic development, as well as creating a new leadership development program for future community leaders.

Mayor Alan Oberloh explained council members are already considering some type of new loan program.

"If we can, as a city, do a 2 percent loan ... something you can't get anywhere, this would be a total payback," Oberloh said.

"You really have to decide if you want to spend money to make money," Wood added later.

Two other residents in attendance, Lamont Kucker and Gene Batcheller, suggested that money be used for infrastructure and street work. Batcheller specifically mentioned the streets surrounding Worthington High School and Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center as in need of improvement.

Lon Lien told council members he believed the bridge across Whiskey Ditch needed replacement, noting both safety and aesthetic concerns. Jon Benson, who for 13 years served on the Worthington Housing and Redevelopment Authority, suggested the city boost and reorganize the agency, enabling the HRA to further stimulate efforts in the housing sector.

Councilmen voted 4-1 Jan. 7 to approve the WRH sale to Sanford Health Network of Sioux Falls, S.D. The sale could bring as much as $30 million into the city's coffers, Oberloh said.

Anyone interested in commenting on how to utilize the hospital sale money is encouraged to contact city councilmen via e-mail at councilmembers@ci.worthington.mn.us.