Woman working to save local landmarks

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 1, 2001

Karen Trow says people in Albert Lea are missing the boat when it comes to economic development.

Sunday, July 01, 2001

Karen Trow says people in Albert Lea are missing the boat when it comes to economic development. Instead of looking towards the interstate with superstores and industrial parks, they should be looking up at the intricate and unique architecture of historic downtown.

Email newsletter signup

Albert Lea has the largest historical district in Southern Minnesota – three downtown blocks – and it is falling to ruins because locals can’t see its value, she said.

&uot;They’ll go to Europe to see those beautiful old buildings,&uot; she said. &uot;They’ll go to Lanesboro, they’ll go to New Ulm or Stillwater. Isn’t Stillwater just charming? But when it comes to Albert Lea they don’t want to do anything. There’s times I wish these poor buildings were in some other town that would appreciate them.&uot;

Trow has taken the reins on the Stevens Hardware building, organizing a reuse study with the Minnesota State Historical Society, and trying to raise the $5,000 in matching funds and in-kind services to determine whether the building is structurally salvageable.

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners is not convinced, in fact commissioners are all pretty sure they want the Stevens building to come down, but they are encouraging Trow to go ahead with her investigation.

&uot;Karen’s doing a good job,&uot; said Chairman Dave Mullenbach. &uot;If she wants to continue, we’ll back her.&uot;

At the last regular board meeting, Commissioner Dan Belshan proposed the county fund up to $2,000 of the reuse study. The motion passed with Commissioner Mark Behrends dissenting.

Trow says she won’t fall on her sword over the Steven’s building, but wants to explore all options before it is destroyed. She does want to see refurbishing begin somewhere though. What she really wants is to see Broadway established as a historic district, with specialty shops and a handful of restaurants, not falling down tin storefronts for only lawyers and accountants.

Albert Lea has a self-guided tour to historic buildings, but the list is full of unkempt structures like Steven’s hardware. Tours in Albert Lea are down even though they are up in other areas of Southern Minnesota, she said.

&uot;To have these things listed on the historic tour, it is really a shame,&uot; she said.

A historic district would increase retail occupancy, business, and tourism to Albert Lea, she said.

&uot;People aren’t going to drive here to see a Wal-Mart or an industrial park,&uot; Trow said. &uot;They’re going to drive here to see a really cute historical district though.&uot;

Historic preservation can’t be measured in dollars and sense, Trow said. It’s about treasuring Albert Lea’s heritage and preventing irreplaceable buildings from going under the wrecking ball. But it is likely to also have economic benefit for our rural community.

&uot;They’ve tried everything else,&uot; she said. &uot;We’ve got a new school, we’ve got new industrial parks. They’ve tried everything to get people to move here, and I think they’ve forgotten, you’ve got to have a heart.&uot;

Trow urges anyone interested in helping with downtown preservation to call her at 373-2676.