Some things just take a long time
When Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce executive director Cindy Lyon says the Chamber’s new building project has been taking a long time, she is not kidding.
It all started five years ago, in the spring of 2012.
It was then that talk first started in earnest about having the Chamber office out at Giant Park, instead of downtown where it is now in the former police station, with the Giant Museum next door in the former fire hall.
The talk started when the back of the Red Barn Tourist Information Center needed some repair. And some new paint. There was talk about replacing it with a larger structure that could also house the Chamber office.
Made sense. After all, townspeople and tourists alike would have no trouble finding the Chamber office if it was out at by the Green Giant statue.
The first idea was to move in a building if one could be found. And one was. It was the Wessner Grove Township Hall. And, it was on the National Register of Historic Buildings because it had once been a stagecoach depot. Really. So the thought was there could be funds available to preserve and fix it up.
There were funds available. But, not if the building was moved from its original location.
Plus, Lyon says, it would have taken at least $30,000 just to have moved it.
Plan B was to build some sort of new building on the land of Giant Park. But, there were a couple of issues with that idea, too.
First, the question was who owned the land. It seems that while the city of Blue Earth owned most of the fairgrounds property, the fair board owned the land that composed Giant Park and the Giant statue.
It took a year to complete a land swap between the city and the fair board. But by August of 2013 it was done.
The next step was to have some building plans drawn up and in 2014 the members of the Chamber board, Convention and Visitors Bureau board and a joint Building Committee with the city started working on plans for a new building that would house the Chamber office, the visitors center, the Giant museum and more.
In 2015 they mapped out an area on the east side of Giant Park where they could locate the building.
That brought about the next issue. It seems a major electrical line that feeds most of the north side of town ran underground right through Giant Park. The problems and costs involved in moving it were prohibitive.
That is when Lyon and the others turned around and took a good look at the old gas station building. Everyone, including the local editor, had felt it was an eyesore and blocked the view of the Giant statue.
The ideas bounced around as to either buy it and rehab it into a Chamber building, or tear it down and build a new one on the site. The problem, however, is that the price for the building was $399,000.
Eventually, after a lot of back and forth, the Chamber bought the building for just the price of the land, $50,000, with the help of a loan from the Blue Earth Economic Development Authority. The deal was set to be completed on Dec. 31, 2015, but there were more snags, having to do with testing for soil contamination.
The deal was finally struck on April 1, 2016. Lyon calls it a very apropos date. April Fools Day.
After it was determined there were way too many issues with the building to think about fixing it up, the structure was demolished in October of 2016. There was, of course, another issue to deal with; a very high water table that will have to be dealt with before new construction can begin. That is why the orange fencing is in place surrounding the area.
Actually, the fear is that any large vehicle or truck would probably sink down in the mud.
The latest news about the Chamber building is on the front page this week, and for a change, it is really good news. The State of Minnesota is going to give a $300,000 grant to Blue Earth to help build the new building, which is estimated to cost $650,000. So the Chamber has raised $186,000 in donations, but needs to raise about $200,000 more to cover all the costs.
Of course, the grant from the state did not come without its issues too.
The legislature dragging its feet on making any budget decisions kept Lyon on edge for months. But finally, it was done and the bill was signed and sealed by the governor.
Now there are still issues to deal with to actually build the darn thing.
But it sure looks like the worst is over, and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It is, indeed, a Giant leap forward.