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BE Council unsure about Three Sisters

By Fiona Green - Staff Writer | Oct 10, 2021

After many years, the Three Sisters buildings still stand empty.

The Blue Earth City Council contemplated future endeavors as they heard updates regarding projects and improvements around town.

The council received a report about the local Three Sisters Project with some skepticism.

Blue Earth’s Three Sisters Project has been underway since March of 2019. Its goal is to rehabilitate several of the town’s empty buildings so they can contribute positively to Blue Earth’s business community.

Janie Hanson, project creator of the Three Sisters Project, presented updates to the council regarding the project’s status.

“Electrical and HVAC work has started,” Hanson shared. “The furnace supplies have arrived. The rooftop units are still out. The supply chain is not fun to deal with.”

Hanson continued, “We’ve talked some about the supply chain challenges, and those have been exacerbated over the summer. Our construction manager is continuing to navigate the landscape. We are confident we will keep it moving forward.”

Previously, both the Blue Earth City Council and Blue Earth Economic Development Authority (EDA) have expressed concern as to whether the project will meet its extended completion date of Sept. 30 of this year.

The deadline passed last week, and the project still does not seem near completion.

“Building permits? Have you applied for any of those yet?” mayor Rick Scholtes inquired.

Hanson explained the project received an electrical permit with the state. They are currently applying locally for building permits.

“We haven’t seen anything with that,” Scholtes replied. “With the deadline being the 30th, we would have thought we would have seen those.”

“I’m not comfortable letting it go forward,” admitted council member Ann Hanna.

Scholtes added, “Make sure when you come to the EDA meeting next week, you have a very detailed timeline of when this is going to be done.”

Scholtes asked city attorney David Frundt what the outcome may be if the EDA and city decide the Three Sisters Project has not fulfilled the terms of the development agreement.

“If they (the EDA) vote to take it back, it can be taken back,” Frundt explained. “There is an argument that can be made that terms have been met, though. It could lead to litigation.”

“We’re doing the best we can,” Hanson insisted. “Our project manager was down with COVID.”

She added, “A key mission of the Rural Renaissance Project is to spark entrepreneurship in rural areas.”

She continued, “In the development agreement, the main goal was creating at least three full-time positions. We’ve done more than that.”

“The EDA’s recommendation will come back to the council,” Sholtes concluded. “I don’t know how everyone feels about this.”

He continued, “I’m happy to see something is happening with the buildings, but I’m not happy with the communication of how the projects are going.”

While the council simply discussed the matter last Monday, they urged Hanson to remain in constant communication with them in the future, as they are beginning to doubt the project’s progress.

“We’re relying on updates from you to have good faith that this project is moving forward,” city administrator Mary Kennedy explained. “It just comes down to communicating what you know as soon as you know it.”

The council also debated the best way to further plans to build new tennis courts at Blue Earth Area High School.

An engineering services agreement must be approved between Blue Earth and Bolton and Menk to start preliminary phase services and determine the potential cost of the project.

A few council members were still reluctant at the idea of jointly funding the project with the school, and requested more information from Bolton and Menk before committing fully to a plan for the current site of the tennis courts at Putnam Park.

“Until the school knows what it will cost, they’re not going to commit to anything,” Scholtes explained, in support of receiving additional information from Bolton and Menk.

“Give us all the information. Then we’ll have all of that. We should know what we’re going to do with our own property,” said council member Glenn Gaylord.

The council requested that Brown provide feasibility studies for three separate options for the space at Putnam Park.

One option would include a tennis court and two pickleball courts, another option would allow just for tennis courts, and the third option would include additional amenities such as a basketball court.

Other business discussed by the council on Monday evening included: 

• Brown’s presentation of projected street improvement projects for 2022. Brown shared plans to improve First Street, Gorman Street, Galbraith Street, Fourth Street, and a small section of Ninth Street.

The rough cost of the improvements is an estimated $5,139,565. The council passed a resolution to receive Brown’s feasibility reports calling for a hearing for the 2022 street and utility improvements.

• Updates to Third Ward Park, including its name. Kennedy shared new playground equipment has arrived and is currently being installed. She also presented the idea of renaming the park either through a city-wide naming contest, or after an influential Blue Earth citizen. The council agreed to mull the matter over for future discussion.