Editorial: Downtown moves hold much promise

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

This week has been a momentous one for downtown Albert Lea and for local elected officials. The city of Albert Lea and Freeborn County, in a span of less than 24 hours, each made decisions that will change the face of downtown

Albert Lea forever &045; for the better.

The city of Albert Lea Monday night bought the Lea Center building and turned it over to a redevelopment company with a history of success. It will become a mostly residential complex. And the Freeborn County Board Tuesday voted to tear down the 1954 addition to the courthouse and rework its judicial center plan to make up for the lost space.

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Both changes are justified by the desire for a more aesthetically pleasing, vital downtown area for Albert Lea. But the moves are not just for show: Both have a good chance of paying for themselves.

The Lea Center revitalization, to be led by new owner Metro Plains, LLC of St. Paul, will likely be a boon for downtown, both through increased property taxes on the building and with the trickle-down impact on the area that will come from having nearly 40 residential apartments and newly renovated office space.

The 1954 building demolition has been framed as a wasteful move by its opponents, but the extra cost of that move, compared to the remodeling that would have been necessary anyway, is small. That extra cost will likely, over time, be made up by the lower maintenance costs of the newer facility.

By making their decision, Freeborn County commissioners finally created clarity and purpose in what has been a long and bruising fight over what to do with the courthouse.

The elected officials who have stuck their necks out in support of these projects deserve praise for having the courage to act with the best long-term interests of Albert Lea and Freeborn County in mind, despite the temptation to listen to voices of dissent in the present.