by CHRIS ROGERS
As Fastenal founder Bob Kierlin’s new company, Main Square Development, prepares to start construction, the city of Winona’s Port Authority Commission may help the Winona County Historical Society (WCHS) demolish buildings to replace parking that will be eliminated by the Main Square project. On Thursday, city staff will recommend that the Port Authority Commission give the WCHS $70,000 to help cover demolition costs.
This spring, the Port Authority Commission agreed to sell an entire city block — a block owned by the city and nicknamed the Hardee’s block — to Main Square Development and the Kierlin family’s Hiawatha Education Foundation for $1.9 million, just under what the city paid to acquire, demolish, and clean up the block. For years, the block has provided around 150 parking spaces to Winona County, Hardee’s customers, WCHS, and the public. Main Square Development and the Hiawatha Education Foundation are proposing to build an apartment and commercial complex and a preschool on the site. The new development will include parking for its tenants, but it will eliminate the existing parking. Earlier this year, the WCHS asked the Port Authority for help replacing the parking it will lose to the Main Square project.
The WCHS plans to demolish two buildings at 118 and 120 West Fourth Street to create a new parking lot for its history center. One of the buildings has no roof, and city staff and WCHS Executive Director Mark Peterson described them as dilapidated. The WCHS is expecting to spend $200,000 on purchasing the properties and building the parking lots.
On Thursday, the Port Authority Commission will consider giving the WCHS $70,000 to cover the cost of demolition, asbestos testing, and sewer and water disconnections. City staff described the request as a loan; however, the proposed loan is interest-free and entirely forgivable. If WCHS completes the project as planned, it is under no obligation to pay the city back.
Asked why it makes sense for the city to offer an entirely forgivable loan, city manager Steve Sarvi responded, “When the company or the entity that is [requesting] the loan would have difficulty making the loan, but is performing a function or a service for the community, you wouldn’t burden them by paying it back.” Sarvi added of the WCHS, “They draw people to the community. It helps us to honor the past of, not only the city, but the county. And they do have people working there.” Pointing to other communities, Sarvi said that granting forgivable loans is common to promote economic development and other community benefits. In the last at least three years, the Port Authority has not granted another entirely forgivable loan. During that time, it granted low-interest loans to several business and one deferred loan to an low-income housing development, but the contracts still required the borrowers to repay the loan eventually.
“We know the loss of our current parking lot with 26 stalls will have an impact on some of our rentals,” WCHS President Judy Bodway and WCHS Executive Director Mark Peterson wrote in a letter to the Port Authority Commission, referring the history center’s current parking on the Hardee’s block and the use of the history center as a venue for various events. “We believe though with four parking spots behind our building and 10 new spots, we will have sufficient parking for the staff and volunteers plus some for the public.” Bodway and Peterson also highlighted the staff that the WCHS employs and the 20,000 visitors that come to the history center each year. Bodway is the former city manager. Peterson is currently the mayor of Winona.
The Port Authority Commission will consider the request at its meeting on Thursday, July 12, at 4 p.m. in the council chambers on the third floor of city hall. The Port Authority will also review new architectural designs and site plans for the Main Square Community project at that meeting. This meeting is open to the public.