Three Sisters granted extension
The Rural Renaissance Project (RRP) was granted a six-month extension for beginning work on the Three Sisters Project following a meeting of the Blue Earth Economic Development Authority (EDA) on Thursday, Sept. 10.
Chairperson Ann Hanna provided some background on the matter.
“The extension was discussed at the City Council and the EDA was asked to look into it,” Hanna said. “The two objectives, I feel, were the conditions which were put on the building when the deed was signed over. Those conditions were that HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and the south wall were taken care of in the first 18 months of ownership.”
Hanna noted the deadline is coming up which is why RRP has asked for an extension.
“For those of you who were not at the council meeting, I suggested we do a six-month extension and see where they are at,” Blue Earth mayor and EDA member Rick Scholtes commented. “If they are going in the right direction we could grant them the full 12 months extension. Another thing we talked about was they would have to have construction started by June 1 of next year on the HVAC installation to get the extension.”
Scholtes also mentioned Janie Hanson of RRP had said the coronavirus pandemic had also delayed the project.
Hanna shared her concerns.
“My thoughts were the pandemic was not here in May of 2019 when they took ownership so they had almost an entire year to get the south wall painted,” Hanna stated. “SMIF (Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation) has a grant which would have offered them paint for the south wall. That would have shown the public there was an improvement of some sort, even if it was not their design. I feel the two qualifications were not met and they should not be granted an extension.”
Janie Hanson, RRP founder, was asked if they had applied for the SMIF grant.
“That grant does not apply to us. It is not just painting, there would have been other expenses,” Hanson replied. “We would have had to sandblast the walls and the grant requires an artist to be involved in the design. I did not want to do that if we would just have to destroy it later.”
Hanson then shared an updated timeline with the EDA members.
“We considered starting construction in September of last year but made the decision to wait until spring to avoid winter conditions and increased costs,” Hanson explained. “We were all set to get started in the spring and would have had no trouble whatsoever meeting the exterior painting and HVAC deadlines of November of this year.”
“However, when we went to finalize the construction loan, the banks were swamped with the paycheck protection program so the construction loan was not an option,” Hanson shared. “We have put well over $250,000 of development capital at risk in this building. We have brought a $1 million of investment for businesses that are going into those buildings. So I am asking the EDA to consider that if they would like to boot us from the project.”
EDA member John Huisman offered his thoughts.
“I can walk in their shoes in a very novice way with starting my own business,” Huisman commented. “There are big frustrations in this process and COVID absolutely had an affect on getting my business up and running. You cannot imagine what one has to go through to get things going. It is a problem.”
Huisman offered his support for the extension.
“I trust Janie and her team. They will get it done,” Huisman stated. “Let’s put things in perspective and be mindful of what they have had to go through.”
EDA member Bill Rosenau asked if the construction loans were set up.
“We do not have the loan because we do not have approval for starting construction in a timely matter,” Hanson said. “They are not going to give us a loan if the city is going to take the buildings back in December.”
Support for the extension also came from EDA member Peggy Olson.
“I myself hate seeing those buildings empty so I would rather grant an extension,” Olson stated. “We have all stood up for you, rooted for you and are cheering for you that you can get it done because we need you on Main Street.”
Scholtes asked and Hanson agreed that updates be provided to the EDA so progress could be monitored at the local level.
The motion to grant the extension then passed.
A decision on changing the locking system for the doors at the Ag Center was delayed until more specific information was available to determine the difference between the various options the EDA has received so far.
The EDA hopes to make a decision on the locks at their next meeting so they could possibly use money from the CARES act to help cover the cost of the project.
Economic specialist Amy Schaefer reported the small business grants will open for a second round on Monday, Sept. 14, and will run for two weeks. The grant amount this round will be $1,000.