homepage logo

Thoughts about the Three Sisters

By Staff | May 20, 2018

I have been asked by many people what I think of the most recent proposal for the Three Sisters buildings in Blue Earth.

So, here is my two cents worth.

Anyone who has seen the proposal, with its artists drawings of what the three buildings could look like and the idea of making these three buildings into showplaces that will revitalize the downtown, and create a destination that will draw folks here from around the area and around the country, has been impressed.

So am I. Like others, I feel that if this can actually be accomplished, it would be an astounding asset to the city of Blue Earth.

But, like others, I am not totally convinced this can actually happen. At least, perhaps not on this scale.

The plan that has been presented to the Blue Earth City Council and the Blue Earth Economic Development Authority (EDA) calls for a $2.5 million remodeling of the Three Sisters. And, it called for $750,000 of investment from the city, and/or the community.

There is the issue. The money. You know, it almost always is the money.

How much taxpayer funding should go into a private entity like this? The city’s offer of selling the three buildings, valued at around $10,000 each as they sit now, for just $1, is a generous offer. Adding in another $150,000 in a grant to make the buildings suitable for sale, plus a $200,000 low interest loan, seems like as much as the city and EDA are willing to do. And it seems like a fair deal.

But investing $750,000 which the city does not have available without bonding or raising property taxes and without a guarantee it will be able to recoup those funds seems unwise.

The city is already spending some rather large dollars elsewhere around the town. A $7.5 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade, $2 million housing development, $1 million Chamber of Commerce building and a $1 million Public Works Department building are all in the works at this time. With these projects, the city has arranged the finances and has developed the ways and means to pay off all those dollars being spent.

In the case of the Three Sisters, the city’s ability to recoup their invested funds is either through loan repayments from the ownership, or generating more property taxes that would pay off a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bond. However, if the company becomes a non-profit entity, which sounds like it may happen, then it is questionable whether there would be any property taxes to repay the investment by the city. Then the property taxpayers of Blue Earth would be on the hook.

Even if the city could, or should, invest $750,000 into this project, the question has been raised as to where the other $1.75 million would come from. And, how would that money be paid back, unless, of course, it is all donated money which does not have to be paid back.

I guess it is possible that could be the case, but that would be surprising.

As someone who has owned businesses and buildings in small towns, I know it is important to have a business plan, to know how you will be able to make all the payments necessary to keep the doors open. That means operating income to pay the heat and light bill, the employees, the cost of goods, and, any kind of loan payments.

In a small town, that is not always an easy thing to do. One has to keep a close eye on the finances, and try not to bite off more than one can chew.

There is something called return on investment. If I invest in something, what am I expecting in return? I expect to generate enough income to pay all the bills and the mortgage and still make a buck or two. That does not always magically happen.

But, back to this current Three Sisters project.

What do I personally think of it? I think it is a fabulous idea. And, if this group can make it happen, then they will deserve a whole lot of credit and thanks from the Blue Earth community. But I also think the city and the EDA are correct in being cautious when it comes to how much they should be involved and how much public money should be invested.

Perhaps the answer is that the goals of this ambitious proposal can be accomplished just as well on a much smaller financial scale.

I wish them all good luck, and I continue to hope that something, sometime, no matter what that something is, will happen with those Three Sisters.

So much for my two cents worth. And that might be just what my opinion is worth sometimes.