Demolition begins on 2 downtown buildings

Published 12:17 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Demolition has begun on the two buildings partially collapsing in historic downtown Albert Lea. 

The demolition, by Keith Johnson Construction LLC of Blooming Prairie, began Tuesday morning after the Albert Lea City Council voted Monday to allow the city to spend up to $250,000 to demolish the buildings, at 324 and 332 S. Broadway. 

The city will pay the construction firm $10,000 a day for the work. 

Email newsletter signup

The city had previously sought bids for the emergency demolition but had received only one bid for almost $711,000 — which was more than twice the engineering estimate — for the work.

Since then, city Building Official Wayne Sorensen identified a contractor, Keith Johnson Construction of Blooming Prairie, who was able and willing to do the job at a much lower cost. The city also worked with several utilities to relocate services such as gas and electricity for neighboring buildings.

Part of the building at 332 S. Broadway had started collapsing in late June, after which the city proposed their demolition to the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office to prevent damage to the rest of the block and to protect public safety. After the 332 building started to collapse, the state agreed that the city should proceed with demolition. Both buildings, acquired by the city through tax forfeiture, were in severe disrepair, with collapsing interior floors and other structural damage. Pieces falling off the exterior posed a risk to pedestrians on the sidewalk below.

The two buildings share walls with the Vitality Center to the north and former Broadway Theater building to the south, putting the neighboring buildings at risk of structural damage. The former theater building, at 338 Broadway, is owned by private individuals who are working with the city to assess the structural integrity of the building and repair its exterior. The Vitality Center, at 314  Broadway, is owned by the city, which rents office space to several tenants.

After demolition, the long-term goal would be to sell the land for private development.

In the short term, the city is considering plans to improve the open space with a small park or a parking lot with landscaping. Both options would use exterior materials from the buildings to replicate some of the lost architectural features along Broadway. If a parking lot,  vehicles would access it from the alley behind the remaining buildings. The goal would be to enhance the downtown and complement potential reuse of nearby properties.

The city has asked drivers and pedestrians to avoid the area while crews haul demolition material from the site. The sidewalk and parking spaces on the 300 block of S. Broadway are blocked for use.