City enters talks with building renovation firmPublished 9:39am Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Albert Lea officials are working with a team from Minneapolis for potential redevelopment of the downtown Freeborn National Bank and Jacobson buildings.
City Manager Chad Adams said city staff and representatives from Phoenix Development, which has offices in both the Twin Cities and in California, met at the end of August after the company responded to the city’s request for a developer.
Adams said the city is signing into exclusive negotiations with the company during the next six months to a year for the buildings, 201 and 211 S. Broadway Ave. The company, which plans to create Freeborn Partners LLC, has a history of renovating older structures and turning them into mixed-use buildings, he said.
“We’re very optimistic about the team that’s been put together,” Adams said. “We think it’s an essential piece to the success of the downtown.”
What is still to be decided is what will go into the buildings, whether that is commercial on the ground level and then low-income or market-rate apartments in the upper levels. Adams pointed out that the community survey conducted earlier this year has shown a need for better diversity of housing in the community.
The Freeborn National Bank and Jacobson buildings were originally constructed in the 1920s but had been vacant since 1995 until June, when the National Vitality Center opened an office at the back of the lower floor of the Jacobson building. Prairie Wind Coffee opened as a coffee shop in the front half of the lower floor in July and signed a three-year lease.
The remaining areas of the two buildings remain vacant and have not been remodeled.
The landmarks were purchased by the city for $75,000 on April 19, 2001, out of concerns that they might be lost. City officials have hoped the buildings could be the key to revitalizing Albert Lea’s downtown business district.
In 2006 and 2007, the city invested almost $2 million for the exterior renovations of the bank building, at the corner of Broadway Avenue and William Street. Adams estimated renovations between $4 and $6 million still need to be completed on the interior, including replacing electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilation systems, and installing fire sprinklers, among other improvements.
He said with the potential development of the downtown buildings, plus potential Broadway Avenue streetscape plans, new downtown festivals and other private investments in businesses, there is more initiative being taken to bring activity downtown.
“A lot of exciting things are happening in the downtown,” Adams said. “This will be another element to making the downtown successful.”
No new city funds have been put into the development proposal other than staff time.