Century Partners recognized as Citizens of the Year

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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Local couples, enthusiastic about Albert Lea, take a leap of faith with downtown project

There’s no denying the passion for Albert Lea when you walk into the room with the five couples who recently purchased the historic Freeborn National Bank and Jacobson Apartments.

Though they all come from different backgrounds, they want nothing more than to see Albert Lea grow.

For this reason, coupled with the group’s extensive community involvement, the Albert Lea Tribune’s Citizen of the Year Committee has selected the 10 people who make up Century Partners as the 2024 Albert Lea Tribune Citizens of the Year.

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The five couples — Mark and Emma Habben, Jon and Abby Murray, Brittany and Ron Eriksmoen, Kelsey and Luke Routh, and Robert and Angie Hoffman — have already put thousands of hours of sweat equity into their project, which is being turned into The Broadway, which is made up of an event center, pizzeria and coffee shop on the main levels, with health and beauty suites and offices on the upper levels, and a rooftop patio planned down the line.

Robert Hoffman said the group came together organically after the city started seeking requests for proposals for the two buildings. He had also been hired as the listing agent for the part of the bank building that at that time was owned by Mortarr, under the name of Sobro Properties LLC.

A few other investors had offered purchase agreements for the space, and while those investors loved the buildings, they questioned Albert Lea, Hoffman said.

“Like the start of a good movie, we had to get this team together, and this team consists of people who trusted Albert Lea for a long time,” he said. “This group of people who already trusted Albert Lea decided to take a deep breath and do this project.”

Hoffman said for him the project started 12 years ago when he bought his building on South Broadway across from the Freeborn National Bank building for his real estate business from Mark Habben. For about a decade, he said he stared across the street, almost praying he could be a part of the future of the Freeborn National Bank building.

“For almost five decades, I’ve watched and wondered, what’s next?” he said.

He said his first call was to Mark Habben — more for his sister’s business —but Habben’s wheels were turning, too.

Emma Habben said her husband has always liked the buildings, and after initially turning to his family about the opportunity and it not being the right project for them, he decided to put it out of his brain.

“But for the next few months, he couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “He’s kind of been dreaming about it. He would work out at SNAP Fitness across the street and dream about this.”

The group expanded from there and before long, there were five couples together who were willing to take on the project, including Abby Murray, who helped develop the first floor of the Bank Building for Mortarr, and her husband, Jon.

The couples said they all wanted to do something that would be good for the community because of all the community has done for them. They also know of the potential the community has.

“This building that has been adored, even just from the outside for over 100 years, and to be able to bring some modern amenities to it …” Kelsey Routh said. “We know that Albert Lea can have more restaurants, it can have a different aesthetic for businesses, restaurants and events — that more boutique style.”

The event center has already opened, and they said they hope the pizzeria and coffee shop can open in late spring, along with the businesses on the second floor.

The couples said they love the passion shared by the other owners and the sacrifice they are all willing to make for the project.

“The idea of the building from when we first got involved to now is completely different, but I think it has to do with everyone’s input and success,” said Brittany Eriksmoen.

“They want to do something that’s going to be good for the community,” her husband, Ron, echoed. “Our roots aren’t as deep as everyone, but we really appreciate the community of Albert Lea. To see something great happen here is what everyone wants.”

Hoffman said part of the group’s business model is to get as many people as possible to walk into the building — and then in return to take their enthusiasm and passion and help all of downtown and Albert Lea.

“If they associate the beauty of this building with the rest of Albert Lea, what an awesome bar to set or example to have for an already beautiful community,” he said.

Aside from the building project, the couples are also busy with other business and volunteer opportunities.

The Rouths have Routh Grain Consulting and Routh Grain Co., and are focused on helping farmers make decisions in risk management and finances. They live west of Albert Lea and farm in Waseca, Steele and Freeborn counties.

They have four children in the Albert Lea school district, and Kelsey’s parents are also in town.

Jon Murray, who works as a financial adviser and is part owner of ISC Financial Advisors, sat six years on the Albert Lea Planning Commission and also served on the Youth Hockey Association and said he enjoys getting out to different events in the city. His wife, Abby, works from home for a business called Storyarb, which she helped found and leads today as CEO. The business creates an online presence for executives and business owners.

Jon Murray said when his wife bought her first building downtown for her former business, The Marketing Plant, she already had her eyes set on the bank building, and it was her ultimate goal to someday be its owner. That dream was fulfilled when she started Mortarr, which formerly occupied the first floor of the bank building, and continues with this opportunity.

Brittany and Ron Eriksmoen are the newest ones to town out of the group, having moved to Albert Lea in 2016. They have been business owners for more than 20 years and have a background in starting and acquiring businesses in several locations, including several community residential homes as well as other rental properties.

Ron Eriksmoen said his sister got married in Albert Lea in 1997, and that was the first time he came to the city. Now they have three children who have graduated in Albert Lea, with a fourth on the way.

The couple has also started the youth rugby program in the community, the Freeborn Eagles.

While Mark Habben was born and raised in Albert Lea, Emma Habben moved here in 2010. The Habben family started Crossroads Trailer, which Mark is president of now, and the couple has two boys in Lakeview Elementary School.

In the community, Emma Habben serves as president of the Lakeview PTO, and Mark Habben enjoys helping coach basketball.

They have also been involved with the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition and co-chaired the Ball in the Mall fundraiser.

They have also recently gotten involved with providing temporary housing for Albert Lea Select Foods employees.

“He’s always thinking of something,” Emma Habben said of her husband.

The Hoffmans grew up in the community, and Robert, a local real estate broker, has been a licensed real estate agent for 20 years, and opened his own brokerage and property management firm, RHR, with his wife in 2010.

Angie Hoffman serves on the Albert Lea school board, and Robert Hoffman serves on the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce board and is part of the Albert Lea Rotary Club. He previously served on the boards of The Children’s Center, the Planning Commission and the Heritage Preservation Committee. Together they own or manage 130 rentals in the community.

They also have five rescue dogs and are active volunteers with the Freeborn County Humane Society.

The couples said they are honored to be chosen for the Citizen of the Year recognition and think it lets them know they are moving in the right direction.

“Just from growing up here, having that passion for Albert Lea and wanting to see the city continue to grow, any time you get recognition for anything, it’s very appreciated,” Jon Murray said. “People are seeing the potential here, and having that backing from other community members is very nice.”

They hope their investment in the buildings will carry through for many generations.

“How neat to have our kids or our nieces or nephews look at that and say, “My mom and dad, or my aunt and uncle were part of that.’”


Citizen of the Year nominees
Mike Schrader
Stephen Piper
Cindy Bodensteiner
The Century Partners
Mark Habben
Margie Barber
Kaleb Hurley
Julie Drommerhausen

Citizen of the Year committee
John Holt
Cindy Lunning-Armon
Rick Mummert
Don Nolander
Tom Sorensen
Crystal Miller
Sarah Stultz


Posthumous honorable mention

The Tribune’s Citizen of the Year committee wanted to give posthumous recognition of Albert Lea resident Julie Drommerhausen, who died in November 2023. Her legacy lives on through efforts she started.

In 2017, she and her husband, Dave, helped launch a pilot Food for Backpacks program in Albert Lea to feed local elementary school students over the weekend, so they could come to school better prepared to learn each week.

The program now supports more than 560 children in the Albert Lea school district thanks to partnerships with area churches and the school district.