City approves purchase agreements for two parcels on old Farmstead site

Published 9:59 am Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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The Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved purchase agreements for two parcels on the Blazing Star Landing.

The first, with Kwik Trip, is for the corner lot, for $750,000, while the second is with a company called Tapestry Companies that plans to build low-income apartments.

The Blazing Star Landing was formerly the site of a meat-packing facility for nearly 100 years, which burned down in 2001. It has remained primarily vacant since due to soil contamination cleanup costs.

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City Manager Ian Rigg said the site has had what he describes as “extraordinary difficulties” because of the contamination.

“There is nothing easy about converting this into something that would be easily developed …” said Rigg, noting he recognizes people have had hopes for what they thought the land should become.

“We have looked hard for a grocer — and we’re still looking hard for a grocer — we’re still looking hard for what some of those other lots might be.”

He said the council and staff have put significant time into the projects, and when they had someone who was willing to work with them, they couldn’t pass up those opportunities easily.

Under the agreement with Kwik Trip, the company will purchase the land on the corner for $750,000. The city will clean up the site and has already received funds through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development toward those costs.

The proposed improvement will create 15 new jobs and approximately $500,000 in added payroll to the community, according to the resolution.

The low-income apartments would be valued at $16 million and include 60 units, ranging from one to four-bedrooms.

Rigg said for the housing project to work, the city had to make some significant changes to its commitment to the project to help the project qualify for Minnesota Housing Finance Authority tax credits. One of those is the city’s commitment to cleanup costs, should it not receive the $480,000 it is requesting from DEED for soil remediation.

He presented a best- and worst-case scenario for the project in the work session before the meeting and said at worst case, the cost to the city could be as high as $46,000 a year for the cleanup and infrastructure improvements.

He said the goal is to rehabilitate the site, see some improvements and see something that sat empty for quite some time become more vibrant.

Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker said while he recognized the housing project is a risk, the city has been sitting on that land for over 20 years.

“One thing we can guarantee (is) if we don’t do this, nothing’s going to happen. …” Baker said.

He said the project gives the city a chance to achieve some of its goals, including adding more housing.

“Over the years that I’ve been on the council, I’ve talked to a lot of different developers,” he said. “They pretty much gave me the feeling, they won’t invest in a community that won’t invest in itself. I guess I look at it this way: We’re investing in ourselves for future generations.”

First Ward Councilor Rachel Christensen also pointed out that Tapestry Companies, the project manager and developer has an excellent reputation.

Albert Lea Mayor Rich Murray said the council takes the decisions very seriously and he, particularly, is always looking hard at the finances.

During the work session, he expressed concern with leaving taxpayers with the possibility of having to pay $46,000 a year in the worst-case scenario.

But he said the project helps fulfill a need for more housing in the city and helps use some of the old Farmstead site after so many years with nothing there.

“We never want to put our taxpayers in the city at risk in anything we’re doing, but we need to make investments,” Murray said.

Councilors also expressed they hoped the projects could be a catalyst for the rest of the site.