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City hears Three Sisters update

By Staff | May 27, 2018

Janie Hanson, left, the founder and CEO of Connect the Grey, and an associate, were in the Three Sisters buildings during the Wine Walk two weeks ago to show diagrams of what their plans are for the Sisters.

The Blue Earth City Council started their meeting last Monday with a discussion about the Three Sisters buildings in downtown Blue Earth and they ended their meeting two hours later with another discussion about the Sisters.

The council spent all of their half hour work session, held before the regular meeting, hearing two updates on a proposed $2.5 million project for the three empty downtown buildings, now owned by the city and its Economic Development Authority.

Then, at the end of the regular meeting, the council went into closed session to discuss a possible “property transfer,” assumed to be the Three Sisters properties.

After they came out of closed session the council announced they would hold a public hearing concerning a sale of the Three Sisters. It will be held at 5:05 p.m. on Monday, June 5, at the Ag Center (not the City Hall), right before the regular council meeting begins.

“This is not necessarily to do with a sale to the Connect the Grey group,” city administrator Tim Ibisch said after the meeting. “This is necessary for a sale of the properties to anyone, if the buildings are sold for below market value.”

The council and the EDA have indicated they would sell the three properties for $1, to a developer who has an acceptable plan for them. The buildings have an approximate market value of $10,000 each as they sit.

At the work session, held at 4:30 p.m. before the regular meeting start at 5 p.m., the council heard a report from Ron Ziegler of CEDA, the organization which the city contracts with for economic development assistance.

“Having a developer willing to put money into your downtown does not happen every day,

Ziegler told the council. “If it is successful and is done right, it can help revitalize a downtown area and help drive other investment into other businesses.”

But, Ziegler also had some words of caution.

“The buildings need some help, which should be done no matter what you end up doing with them,” he said. “You need to make a determination on what you can invest and what not to invest in. There is a fine line what you can do or not do with public dollars.”

Ziegler went on to describe how different towns want different results from their investment.

“Some want job creation, others don’t,” he said. “Some want to leverage their investment, others want matching funds from the developer, while others want to have their public funds be the last money that is put in to be sure the project gets done.”

After Ziegler finished his report, Janie Hanson, founder and CEO of Connect the Grey, gave the council an update.

She reported that Region 9 staff will be assisting her firm with setting up non-profit status, as well as providing a business model for the project.

“We will have space for 18 (rental) units in the three buildings, with about 1,000 square feet per space,” Hanson said. “We are now working on how much the rent would be, in order to cover the building costs.”

As far as property taxed areas of the building go, Hanson said the restaurant and office spaces would be for profit ventures, while the art gallery, art studio and classroom area would be non-profit.

Hanson also reported that her group has received its first large donation of $100,000 towards the project.

“We are still opening this up as to what kind of entrepreneurs want to be in on this project, Hanson said. “We have people who are interested.”