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For sale: Lots of lots and buildings

By Staff | Aug 23, 2015

As predicted several times in this column, old, abandoned buildings, houses and empty lots are continuing to be an issue with the cities and towns in Faribault County.

I have to admit, it was a pretty easy prediction to make.

Taking a drive around the county, one can see there are many of them, because they are everywhere.

Every town has them. Old houses, empty downtown store buildings, abandoned structures and unused lots. They are in the rural areas as well.

Eventually the owners quit paying property taxes on these unused properties (it is hard to pay money every year for something that is not being used) and then after a few years the county takes over ownership for non-payment of those taxes.

The county doesn’t really want them either.

They try to sell them and auction them off when possible. But, before they do, they offer the properties to the cities in which they are located. Generally the price is pretty cheap, sometimes just $100.

Just recently both Winnebago and Blue Earth took them up on the offer and purchased some of these proffered properties from the county.

You might wonder why the cities want them. And, that is a good question.

Do cities really want to be into real estate ownership? As Blue Earth city councilman John Huisman quipped the other night, “Do we really want more property to have to mow?”

Good question.

Generally cities take over the property for a reason.

Maybe it is an empty lot that they have plans for, such as the case in downtown Blue Earth. Maybe they want to expand a city park or campground. Maybe they just want to clean up the lot and sell it.

Perhaps they feel that without any other ownership, the city will wind up mowing it anyway.

In the case of old buildings or houses, the city may want to take over ownership just to be able to tear it down and get rid of it.

That has happened around the county and I predict you will be seeing more and more of it. Again, it is an easy prediction to make.

An abandoned gas station on Highway 169 in Blue Earth is a prime example.

The structure, located across the highway from the Blue Earth Area Schools bus garage, was closed long ago. It has sat empty with a for sale sign on the front for years, slowly deteriorating. City councilman Dan Brod hit the nail on the head, it is an eyesore and tends to make the whole city look dumpy to everyone driving by.

It should be demolished, for sure, and the City Council debated buying it just so they could do that very thing. However, they felt there could be someone out there who might be interested in the property just because it is a prime location along the so-called Highway 169 ‘beltline’ business area.

And maybe there is and that person will buy it, demolish it, and put something new there.

But, if they don’t, I hope the city can, because, yes, it needs to go away. And then maybe the empty lot can be sold for future development.

Unfortunately that old gas station is not the only old building along the beltline that may need demolition and clean up. And there are plenty more in downtown Blue Earth. And a lot of old abandoned houses as well.

Plus, a bunch more in Wells, Winnebago, Elmore, and, well, you get the idea.

I’m happy the county and the cities are taking a proactive approach to this problem, a problem affecting small towns across rural Minnesota. You can call it rural urban blight.

But, buying up property and demolishing old buildings does take money. So far our local governments seem willing to invest in this process, but it will take a pot of money each year, to continue to clean up our towns.

Nothing tends to give off a bad impression faster than driving into a town and seeing lots of old, dilapidated and empty houses and business buildings.

We would all rather hear our visitors say something like, “wow, what a nice looking little town I wouldn’t mind living here.”

Because the truth is, we do have some very nice little towns here in Faribault County, and it is great living here, for many different reasons.

We just need to make sure they look nice, too.