Bridge land that city eyed sold
by ZACH KAYSER and CHRIS ROGERS
The city of Winona Port Authority will vote Thursday on whether to spend $580,000 of taxpayer money to buy a parking lot and adjoining building downtown.
The ProBuild site at 165 West Second Street has been eyed by the city since last year. The Port Authority plans to raze the building, which is no longer used by the company, and then turn the entire parcel into a parking lot, City Manager Steve Sarvi said Monday. Sarvi said it was not yet determined whether the spaces would be public or private. Fastenal’s new office building as well as county offices are directly across the street.
The Port Authority considers the parking lot plan to be merely an interim use of the property, however.
Asked if he knew what the city wanted to do with it in the long term, Sarvi replied, “Nope.”
Sarvi pointed out that the $580,000 price tag was considerably less than the $1.1 million that Winona County land assessors had figured the parcel was worth. Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin said an appraisal by Dan Mueller formed the basis for the relatively low selling price.
Emails obtained through an open records request indicate city officials were interested in the property as far back as December. Port Authority Commission member and Fastenal Vice President for Real Estate Dana Johnson sought an appraisal of the property from Mueller. “The city would like to look at this block as a redevelopment project,” Johnson wrote. “The Port purchases downtown properties as they become available to assemble into a larger development.”
Johnson did not specify what type of project in the email, but he did cite as an example the “Hardee’s block” that now contains the Main Square development project. The city assembled several smaller parcels and then sold them en masse to Fastenal founder Bob Kierlin’s Main Square Development and the Hiawatha Education Foundation.
Parcels sold on bridge-landing block Fastenal, city eyed
Late last week, the former owners of land acquired for the interstate bridge project in downtown Winona bought back their old properties from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), including a few parcels in which the city of Winona Port Authority and Fastenal have expressed interest. City officials indicated they are open to selling one port-owned parcel to Fastenal.
Ever since MnDOT acquired swaths of downtown land for the bridge’s construction, Winonans have been anticipating what could spring up once MnDOT sold the excess land. Now that moment is finally here.
Earlier this winter, the City of Winona Port Authority and Fastenal bought two parcels on the same block, at 150 Huff Street, just north of the former YMCA. The Port Authority bought a relatively small piece for $30,000 while Fastenal bought half the block for $390,500. At the time, city officials said they planned to work with Fastenal to assemble the block, and Johnson said of Fastenal, “We don’t have any plans or designs on what to do with that piece of property between Third Street and Fourth Street and Huff Street and the bridge. We just think it’s important from a community development standpoint to do our best to see if those other property owners would agree that it would be good for the city, good for the community, and good for the downtown if it is able to be assembled into one piece.”
The move comes as Fastenal’s new 400-employee office building just a couple blocks away on Second Street is nearing completion, and the company has been securing additional places for those workers to park. Fastenal previously purchased the old YMCA and planned to demolish that building for parking, as well.
MnDOT recently offered former owners the “right of first refusal” to buy back properties MnDOT purchased or seized for the bridge construction. Late last week, several exercised that right. Four former owners repurchased properties from MnDOT, including three properties on the same 150 Huff Street block in which the city and Fastenal had expressed interest.
Asked if the Port Authority was still interested in assembling the 150 Huff Street block for parking, Winona City Manager Steve Sarvi said, “Parking may be a use; redevelopment may be another. And I guess we’ll just have to figure out who owns what pieces and start having conversations with them.”
Had the former owners waived their right, the city would have been next in line to buy the parcels from MnDOT. Now, if Fastenal or city officials want to assemble the whole block, they will need to purchase the remaining pieces from the new owners.
Asked if that would make assembly more difficult, Sarvi responded, “Well, yeah, you have to work with more people, but that’s the way the rules are, and so we’ll have to work with the new reality that there are more people that have property there.” Sarvi later said, “I imagine [the property owners] think they have an opportunity to leverage a higher sale.”
McMartin said she was unsurprised by the former owners’ purchases. As for assembling the block, she stated, “We’re just in charge of that one parcel, but at least that gives us a seat at the table.”
McMartin mentioned that the Port Authority might be willing to sell its parcel to Fastenal. “They own the north side of the block, so if they’re interested in parking, we’re happy to work with them,” McMartin said, adding, “If they are able to secure the other properties, then, yes, we’re happy to work with them, too.”
Sarvi described the city’s relationship to Fastenal and the 150 Huff Street block this way: “They have their needs they’re trying to meet, and we are trying to meet our own needs as a community. Where those needs meet and intersect — and they often do — we try to work together.”