Freeborn National Bank building space back on the market

Published 7:35 pm Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The lower floors of the Freeborn National Bank building, which have been under the ownership of Albert Lea-based Mortarr for the last three years, are back on the market after the business has shifted toward allowing its employees to work remotely.

Mortarr, an online inspiration gallery and networking platform developed exclusively for the commercial construction and design industry, was founded in 2017 by Albert Leans Steve Pulley, Abby Murray and Amy Petersen.

Murray said during the pandemic, when all of the staff moved to working remotely, they found that a lot of their team moved to different communities or moved on from the company. When the company started hiring more people, they decided to continue allowing people to work from home, often from other communities.

“We’re down to five people locally in Albert Lea,” she said out of the company’s 11 total employees. “Three of the five are co-founders, and we couldn’t justify keeping the building.”

Though they plan to possibly develop a smaller space downtown for employees in Albert Lea, most of the company’s employees will likely continue to work remotely in the future.

Murray said since its creation in 2017, Mortarr has grown to have over 1,400 companies showcasing on its platform, including some of the largest names in commercial construction and design, including Kohler, Sherwin Williams and Saint-Gobain, among others.

“We’re excited to be able to hand this off to the next person to hopefully do even more than when we got started with it,” Murray said of the building.

Built in 1922, the Freeborn National Bank building at the corner of Broadway and William Street, was originally constructed as a bank on the first floor and medical and professional offices in the upper floors.

The city purchased the building in 1998 and in 2006 spent about $2 million to restore the exterior, including tuck-pointing, a new roof, a skylight and new water, sewer and electrical service to the buildings, among other improvements.

In 2018, the city approved the sale of the main and second floors of the building to Mortarr for $100,000, with the potential for the company to acquire more property in the future as it expands.

The city also approved loans as part of the sale, including $370,000 from the city’s revolving loan fund and $370,000 from the city’s economic development fund. If 10 jobs were created in five years, $100,000 of the funds loaned from the economic development fund was to be forgiven. Otherwise, Mortarr is expected to pay back the loans at 2 percent interest over 10 years. 

City Manager Ian Rigg said the loan is against the property, and Mortarr will have to pay back the amount of the loan like any mortgage at the sale.

Under Mortarr’s ownership, the first floor and mezzanine of the building were transformed into a combination of both old and new. Contractors re-plastered and resurfaced walls, but kept the original architectural carvings in place. Some of the original flooring remains, along with exposed concrete elements.

The second floor remains unfinished.

Murray said their space, listed for $1,999,900, is a “turn-key solution” for someone wanting an office or mixed-use type of building. She said when they did the construction, they planned for growth upward, so all of the utilities, electrical, plumbing and HVAC are fitted for a company to develop into the upper floors. She also noted that Mortarr got through the historic preservation requirements, so the next person can come in and start development.

Though the space is just starting to get advertised, there has already been some interest from a few developers, she said. The company is working with both an Albert Lea Realtor and another out of Rochester.

The city still owns the third and fourth floors.

“I think the biggest benefit to our building is it can be mixed-use space,” she said. “The residential opportunity on the upper floors is really attractive.”

She said she has appreciated the support Mortarr received from the city with their project and the support the community likewise has shown. She said there is some exciting news in the works for the company that will be released in the beginning of 2022.