Group of local investors purchases portion of Freeborn National Bank building

Published 9:05 am Friday, September 29, 2023

Closing on remainder of building and all of neighboring Jacobson Apartments building likely to take place next month

After more than a year of planning, a group of Albert Lea investors known as Century Partners LLC on Thursday closed on the portion of the Freeborn National Bank building formerly owned by Mortarr.

Mortarr, under the name of Sobro Properties LLC, had owned the main level, as well as the mezzanine, basement and second floor of the building at the corner of Broadway and William Street.

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Century Partners has been in negotiations with the city for months for the remainder of the building, as well as all of the Jacobson building, and the sale on that portion is expected to come before the Albert Lea City Council next month.

The investors include five Albert Lea couples: Mark and Emma Habben, Ron and Brittany Eriksmoen, Jon and Abby Murray, Luke and Kelsey Routh, and Robert and Angie Hoffman.

Mark Habben said all of the investors are well-rooted in the community and many have local businesses. They each have unique skill sets to bring to the project.

“We know Albert Lea,” Habben said. “We know what the community can bring, and we know that it’s a good positive thing for downtown and the residents.”

The project in entirety will be called The Broadway with tentative plans to turn the main level of the bank building into an event center, while the main level of the Jacobson building is slated to be turned into a coffee shop in the front and a bar and pizzeria with wood-fired pizza and higher-end cocktails and drinks in the back, Habben said.

“We want people who will come to town from outside the area and spend money in town,” he said.

He noted the event center will be like nothing else in town and said there are three large chandeliers on order for the space.

“It’s going to be where the bride can feel like she’s a princess,” he said.

On the second floor and possibly into the third floor will be health and beauty suites, including everything from hair and nail salons to tanning, acupuncture, naturopathic doctors and others, said Robert Hoffman. The front three suites in the Jacobson building overlooking Broadway will be offices, and there are even plans for a rooftop patio.

“I see us becoming an entertainment and destination hub regionally,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said he had been hired as the broker for the portion of the bank building that had Mortarr in it and had reached out to many potential investors. When buyers from Northfield and Winona started to show interest in the building things got exciting, he said.

“However, there were more questions about Albert Lea and if the community would support this than there were of the property itself,” Hoffman said. “I felt like we needed local investors to consider this project and reached out to a few people that have trusted Albert Lea as a home for their businesses … We thought if out of town investors can, local investors should.”

Hoffman said he and Habben and his family have been friends since high school and Hoffman actually purchased the building on Broadway across the street from the bank building from Habben before the revitalization of downtown.

With this project, he reached out to Habben and then one thing led to another, and they brought in other investors to be a part of it as well.

Built in 1922, Freeborn National Bank was originally constructed as a bank on the first floor and medical and professional offices in the upper floors. The Jacobson’s first two floors were constructed in 1888, and the two upper floors were added in 1923. The buildings share a staircase and an elevator.

The city purchased the building in 1998 and in 2006 spent about $2 million to restore the exterior of the bank building, including tuckpointing, a new roof, a skylight and new water, sewer and electrical service to the buildings, among other improvements. Mortarr had owned its portion of the bank building since November 2018, and the city had leased out the lower level of the Jacobson building first for Prairie Wind Coffee and then The Interchange Wine & Coffee Bistro.

Habben said the pizzeria, coffee shop and event center are slated to be open by the first quarter, with their first event already planned for December in the event center.

The investors also plan to have an open house to showcase the space to the public.

They said they have already put in many hours of sweat equity in demolition of the building under a lease with the city, clearing out enough debris to fill about 25 40-yard dumpsters.

Habben said they plan to use all local contractors in the work.

With the $1.2 million sale on Thursday, $740,000 in economic development loans from the city will be repaid, along with a $130,000 loan from the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency. Taxes will also be made current.

Albert Lea City Manager Ian Rigg said city officials are “very pleased” to see the first portion of the building close and that the city is able to be  made whole from the transaction.

Habben said anyone with inquiries about joining the space should reach out to him at 651-235-3143 or Hoffman at 507-402-4692.