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Is a Sisters deal getting close?

By Staff | Jun 17, 2018

Janie Hanson of Connect the Grey, has big plans for the Three Sisters buildings, which are visible behind her.

Both the Blue Earth City Council and the Blue Earth Economic Development Authority (EDA) are taking steps towards the possible sale of the Three Sisters buildings in downtown Blue Earth.

After the City Council decided to allow the buildings to be sold below market value after a public hearing two weeks ago, the EDA studied a draft of a development agreement with Rural Renaissance Project, Inc., during their meeting on Thursday morning.

“This basically spells out what the city and EDA will do and be responsible for, and what Rural Renaissance is responsible to do,” city administrator Tim Ibisch told the EDA board members. “Today, we want the EDA to look it over and discuss it.”

Ibisch explained this 10-page document spells out what the developer is expected to do. But, he added, it is not the purchase agreement, as that will be created later.

EDA member Ann Hanna asked if Rural Renaissance Project has developed a detailed business plan for the Three Sisters plan.

“Yes, our business plan does exist,” said Janie Hanson, CEO and founder of Connect the Grey, a company that is doing the groundwork for the Rural Renaissance group. “We have budget plans for both the building and the operation.”

Hanna questioned what if only eight of the 18 proposed spaces was rented out, and Hanson said Rural Renaissance was prepared for operating both from rent and other sources.

“We will be able to cover it from both rent and our enterprises,” she said. “There will be funds in reserve for this type of thing.”

One part of the document requires Rural Renaissance to raise $1 million in cash and pledges in the next 90 days. EDA members asked if Hanson thought that was doable.

“Yes I truly believe so,” she responded. “And we will do it as soon as humanly possible, but it could take until the end of the year.”

She added that they have already received a pledge of $100,000, and another for matching $300,000, and they have not actually started all of the fundraising plans yet.

Hanson said that if the sale is progressing along, they would like to kick off their fundraising plans during Giant Days, and asked for permission to use the south building for the event.

Administrator Ibisch said that was a possibility, depending on the type of activity it involves. Hanson said it would be a pop-up art gallery and wine event, similar to the Bucs Night Out.

“Our fundraising will be in phases,” she said. “We will start with local groups and organizations and businesses, then branch out to people who have ties to Blue Earth but no longer live here, especially alumni. It will be a grassroots effort.”

From there they will branch out to state and national groups, she added.

When asked if the EDA board needed to vote on the development document at last Thursday’s meeting, Ibisch responded he wanted the members to study it and see if it needed any changing.

“It seems a little like overkill to me,” said board member Kara Drake. “There seems to be a lot of detail that seems like almost an over reach.”

Mayor Rick Scholtes, who is also a member of the EDA, said there was a good reason for the document.

“The City Council felt we needed this kind of agreement,” Scholtes said. “The fear is that if we don’t have something like this, then what happens if the project doesn’t happen. We were stuck for 10 years last time when a non-profit owned it and did nothing with it. We don’t want to have to wait another 10 years if something doesn’t work out. I think this group can get it done, but this gives the city some protection.”

The agreement gives Rural Renaissance 24 months to complete the project, but the EDA members agreed that could be extended.

Hanson said her group is eager to get started as soon as possible, and would like to begin work on the facade of the building yet this year.

“It is what everyone sees,” she explained. “So we would start there.”