An ever-evolving downtown

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, February 25, 2024

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Albert Lea is continuing to see an uptick in activity happening downtown with several smaller projects taking place during the last year — as well as the start of some larger ones, too.

Here is a roundup of some of the most notable changes:

300 block of South Broadway

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One of the most notable projects in the works is a project on the 300 block of South Broadway, which involves a group of local investors and the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency collaborating with a firm called REVocity out of Northfield.

The group, under the name of Albert Lea Real Estate Fund, in June entered a purchase agreement with the city for four properties on the block — 310, 314, 324 and 332 S. Broadway. Two of the properties are open lots left behind from the demolition of buildings that were in major disrepair, and the other two still have buildings standing. It has not been announced if the two standing buildings will be renovated or if they, too, will be taken down with new ones going up in their place.

The purchase agreement provided a 355-day due diligence period that will allow the parties and the city to work toward a develop agreement and to apply for grants.

Albert Lea Real Estate Fund also purchased the building at 302 S. Broadway, known as the Wedge-Jones Building, at the corner of Broadway and Main Street.

Albert Lea Economic Development Agency Executive Director Phillip Johnson said as of December plans were in place for the architectural designs of the Wedge-Jones Building, and they had gone out for bids for the project. He hoped work could begin in the spring on the building and be complete by the end of the year, with the goal of having a restaurant on the lower level and offices on the top. They hope to honor the history of the building and keep many of the historic elements.

“They’re really cool offices,” he said. “We wanted to keep that historical aspect.”

For the rest of the block, there will be larger retail spaces — probably double the size of the normal width of a downtown building — with an estimated 27 to 30 mid- to high-end units on the upper floors, he said.

Johnson said the actual purchase is expected to take place at the end of 2024, with work beginning in 2025.

Albert Lea Real Estate Fund has hopes to get involved with some other projects, as well.

Freeborn National Bank and Jacobson Apartments

Another large project that started in 2023 was with the former Freeborn National Bank and Jacobson Apartments.

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

In October, the Albert Lea City Council approved the purchase agreement for the city-owned portion of the building and by December, the group opened up the first floor of the bank building for its first event.

The investment group is made up of a group of five local couples: Mark and Emma Habben, Ron and Brittany Eriksmoen, Jon and Abby Murray, Luke and Kelsey Routh, and Robert and Angie Hoffman.

Their plans, for what they are calling The Broadway, include turning the lower level of the bank building into an event center with health and beauty suites on the second and likely third floors.

The lower level of the Jacobson Building is planned to have a coffee shop in the front and pizzeria and bar in the back. The front three suites in the Jacobson building overlooking Broadway are planned to be offices, and there are also plans for a rooftop patio.

“I think they’re going to do an excellent job,” Johnson said of the investors. “I’m excited for that group to move forward.”

The event center opened in December, and work in the Jacobson building and upstairs has been ongoing.

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.

Former Hobby Shop

The council in January approved the sale of the former Hobby Shop building downtown to the owners of Ignite Nutrition, who plan to renovate the building for their nutrition club.

Johnson said when complete, the building will be a nice place downtown where people can meet.

“I think this will be a good space for them to grow their business and a good space for people to meet and hang out,” he said.

The sale was part of a redevelopment challenge issued by the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau of the building, at 132 S. Broadway.

The city acquired the building in the summer of 2022 through tax-forfeiture and previously spent about $170,000 in repairs on the property, including a new roof, structural repairs and environmental remediations for the removal of 14,000 pounds of old televisions from the basement of the property. The building was originally constructed in 1880.

Hope Church

Hope Church opened in time for Easter after extensive work to remodel and join two buildings at 244 S. Broadway, at what has historically been known as the St. Paul Clothing House at the corner of Broadway and Main Street.

Demolition began in March 2021, and the space now includes the church offices, space for youth, a sanctuary and even an area for coffee.

The church had previously held its church services at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center.

Spaces to create

Tammy Fink of Albert Lea in February opened The Hive at 136 S. Broadway.

The building is intended to be a creative space for the community, where people can come for classes, team-building sessions or other events to create with a group.

It also has some retail in the front of the building.

Work also was ongoing with Nic and Sarah Lang for two other buildings under a similar vein.

The first is BRICK + MORTAR Market, at 218 S. Washington Ave., which will feature juried artisans, handmade products, and the second is an effort called

The Hatch, which will be a nonprofit makerspace in a separate building, for disciplines including glass blowing, metal working, blacksmithing, welding and woodworking, to name a few.

Boutiques and other retail spaces

Two new boutiques have opened in the last year with Grace & Glory Consignment, at 212 S. Broadway, and Gorgeous Sorrels Boutique, at 101 S. Newton Ave.

Grace & Glory was opened Sept. 1 by Lisa Myran, who had previously had other consignment shops in the community before having to close her recent store because of health issues.

After hearing that the other consignment store had closed, and her health concerns had improved, she decided to try her hand at a new store and in a new location.

The store offers women’s and men’s clothing, juniors clothing, jewelry, shoes, home goods, home decor and small furniture.

Sara Peterson opened Gorgeous Sorrels Boutique in the fall, which offers clothing and accessories, as well as some horse and country-related shopping.
Peterson’s business started online before the brick and mortar location opened.

Newly opened downtown is Anna Tobacco & Smoke Shop in the former Innovision building, at 232 S. Broadway.

Creating Sew Much LLC was slated to open Feb. 6 at 123 N. Broadway. The business sells and repairs sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, crafting supplies and more.

It was opened by three former employees of A-Best Sew & Vac, which closed last year.