Huge 109-year-old building will meet the wrecking ball sometime next year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 19, 2001


Wednesday, December 19, 2001

The county board unanimously voted to demolish the Western Grocery Building Tuesday. The 109-year-old historic building will disappear from the downtown skyline sometime next year.

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The resolution proposed by the county states the county has no intention of remodeling or moth-balling the building for future use.

A clause urging the county to proceed with the demolition and site cleanup was added by the board.

&uot;The Western Grocery Building is not salvageable,&uot; Administrator Ron Gabrielsen emphasized during a slide show examining the structural integrity of the building prior to the resolution.

According observations by Gabrielsen and the county officials, time has changed the shape of the structure into trapezoidal, with a narrow bottom and wider top. Photos of decayed beams, weathered bricks and cracked walls were exhibited as results of the deterioration.

Restoring the building for use as a modern office would be economically infeasible, Gabrielsen concluded. &uot;We can make the building into a palace if we pour in a lot of tax money. But that is not my function.&uot;

Audience members opposing the demolition spoke up.

Mary Ellen Johnson of Destination: Albert Lea (DAL) asked the board to stick to moth-balling, an option recommended by a DAL reuse study that was funded in part by the county. She emphasized that the county should clarify whether a new courthouse scheme would involve the land on which the Western Grocery Building stands.

Christine Certo, who has a master degree in historic preservation, stressed the historic significance of the Western Grocery building for the region, and suggested the county obtain preservation grants for the remodeling project.

The decision to tear down the building, which the board members used to be very reluctant to make, reflects a tighter linkage between the demolition and the future shape of the courthouse.

As recently as this summer, the board was exploring an off-site judicial facility, which would include a new jail, law enforcement center and courts. But as concerns about the potential negative impact on the downtown economy became overwhelming, the majority of the commissioners swung toward the expansion option.

Commissioner Dan Springborg refuted the moth-balling argument, saying that option would mean a slim chance for the county judicial function to remain downtown, and would push commissioners toward the off-site option.

Board Chair Dave Mullenbach said the board’s decision last week to terminate the joint judicial center project with Mower County had taken it away from pursuing any further endeavor for an off-site project.

&uot;It is not feasible for us to propose off-site plan now after we turned down the deal. I am leaning toward the expansion of the current courthouse to the south,&uot; Mullenbach said.

Gabrielsen was explicit for favoring the courthouse to stay in downtown. &uot;The old building site is the only space for the courthouse to expand.&uot;