‘A lot of buzz and activity’: City accepting proposals for Blazing Star Landing

Published 9:18 am Friday, May 19, 2023

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The city of Albert Lea is accepting development proposals for almost 19 acres of land on the former Farmland Foods property in the center of the community.

The official request for proposals opened May 10 after an environmental assessment of the land.

City Manager Ian Rigg said the city had received information from people who were interested in developing pieces of the site and who inquired more about the environmental conditions, so the city got a grant to assess the contamination on the property. After getting the results back, it recently set up a soil tax increment finance district.

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The property has a history of contamination, including arsenic, petroleum and other chlorides. Rigg said the contamination is a result of the former company burying its ash there and also possibly from after the plant burned down in 2001 and it not being properly cleaned up.

The site was used for meat-packing for 90 years and a dump that closed in 1974. Between 1951 and 1974, the property owner filled in part of the channel between Fountain and Albert Lea lakes with material that included ash from burning coal and potentially other hazardous materials.

The city acquired the property, which encompasses 33.29 acres total, in 2004 after the fire that destroyed the meat-packing facility. The city named the site Blazing Star Landing for the nearby state trail of the same name. While several developers have expressed interest in the site over the years, the unknown extent of contamination and cost of cleanup were barriers to developing the property.

With more information known now about the extent of contamination, the city is hoping it can establish a plan to remediate the site and spur development.

Rigg said the city is willing to apply for cleanup grants through the state, but the grants have a higher chance of being awarded if developers are in mind for the property.

With the environmental assessment in mind, the city has divided up the land into parcels that are 2 to 4 acres in size based on the existing road and infrastructure. Rigg said it is possible to negotiate on the size of the parcels.

An additional 10 acres along the channel and the railroad tracks will not be buildable and will remain as public park or green space because of elevation or flood plains.

The city is looking for mixed use on the site with retail and commercial on the northernmost part of the property that it has labeled as Block 1, dense multifamily or senior housing in land in the middle — or Block 2 — and housing, retail or mixed use in Block 3, according to the request for proposals.

The city will install water, sewer and road services.

The first review of proposals will be on Monday though proposals will be accepted through Aug. 18. Once the city knows what interest there is for the property, then the goal is to then figure out the soil remediation plans and costs so the city can then apply for cleanup grants.

Rigg said thus far the city had received at least one official proposal, along with also receiving calls and emails from others.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” he said.

He said the city is in definite need of state assistance as well as tax-increment financing to recoup the cost and damage left by Wilson & Co.

The city recently received an award for its work with a developer on the southwest part of the property to build new apartments on the property.

“The city is very willing and flexible to work with the developer who would be bringing in new opportunities — whether it’s housing or jobs or both to this area,” he said.

“We have a lot of opportunities and options to work together to come up with a solution that will greatly benefit the community.”

The city has set the sale price at $120,000 per acre with the understanding that certain incentives or rebates may be provided to offset remediation or development costs, the RFP states. Rigg said the price was set based on looking at land on main thoroughfares in other communities; however, the price is negotiable.

Though the first review of proposals is Monday, the proposal close date is Aug. 18.

Construction should begin summer or fall of 2024, with the city continuing to work on its remediation action plan, the soil tax increment district, engineering for infrastructure and remediation grant funding options and installation of road, the request states.

Closing on the property would not take place until between January and June 2024 to allow time for the city to hear back on grant funding from the state for the remediation.

He estimated the cost for remediation could be between $125,000 to $250,000 an acre.

“We’re talking a major investment by the city and state,” he said.

To read the full request for proposals, visit https://cityofalbertlea.org/wp-content/uploads/Development-RFP-Blazing-Star-Landing.pdf.

“We’re really excited,” Rigg said. “It’s creating a lot of buzz and activity. Every month we seem to take an inventory of all the new people reaching out to us that are just interested in Albert lea. While not everything will pan out, when you get that many people stepping up, eventually you’re going to have some of those batters hit it out of the park. We’re just very excited to see this level of interest and activity.”