by CHRIS ROGERS
The agenda for this Monday’s Winona Planning Commission meeting is loaded. Should the city clear the way for Bay State Milling to demolish the former Park Brewing Company and Godfather’s Pizza buildings and build a new warehouse? Or should the city try to save the historic brewery? The Planning Commission will be asked to weigh in on those questions as well as the redevelopment of Central school and affordable housing construction on Mankato Avenue.
Bay State’s expansion proposal; bid to save historic brewery
Bay State Milling leaders want to demolish the former Park Brewing Company building and the former Godfather’s Pizza property to clear space for a new warehouse at the company’s over-120-year-old mill.
In a bid to save the historic brewery, the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) last month proposed naming the former brewery a local historic site. Once home to Peerless Chain and now owned by Bay State Milling, the former brewery would fall under local historic preservation regulations if the HPC’s proposal succeeds. Bay State Milling would not be allowed to demolish the building or alter its exterior without city approval.
HPC Chair Kendall Larson called the Park Brewing building an “iconic landmark for our downtown historic downtown and riverscape.” HPC member Kelly Fluharty said, “It would be a real loss to the downtown area if the building was demolished.”
Bay State Milling leaders say they need to expand on-site warehousing capacity at the Winona mill in order to keep the plant, which employs over 100 people, competitive. The historic building cannot meet the company’s needs because it is in too poor of shape, it is not strong enough to support heavy loads, and its ceilings are too short for tall stacks of storage bins, Bay State Milling officials explained. “Unfortunately, really our best option is to raze the building and start over,” Winona Plant Manager Al Simanovski stated.
On Monday, the Planning Commission will weigh in on two separate issues. First, the Planning Commission will be asked to offer its recommendation on whether the Park Brewing building should be named a local historic site. On Wednesday, the HPC will hold a public hearing on that issue, before possibly sending it on to the Winona City Council would make a final decision.
Second, Bay State Milling has asked the city to change the city’s comprehensive plan designation for the former pizza place and rezone the property. When the city revised its zoning code in 2017, the City Council zoned the Godfather’s property “mixed-use downtown core,” which allows for a wide range of business and mixed commercial-and-residential uses, but not intense industrial use. Bay State Milling wants the property to be rezoned “heavy industrial,” which would allow for the warehouse it wants to build.
Before making its recommendation, the Planning Commission will hold three public hearings. The first hearing will consider whether to change the city’s comprehensive plan to support rezoning. If the Planning Commission approves the proposed comprehensive plan change, it will hold a second hearing on the rezoning itself. Finally, the third hearing will consider whether to name the property a local historic site. On all three issues, the City Council will make the final decisions.
Central proposal: 18 residential units plus commercial
Last week, Winona developers Dan Nisbit and Shawn Beier released their plan to repurpose the historic Central school into a mixed-use building with 18 residential units and commercial offices or storefronts on the first floor. Nisbit and Beier’s plan calls for retaining the historic building, eliminating green space on either side of the building for parking, and leaving the western half of the block untouched for now.
The building would feature some kind of commercial space on the first floor and residential units above. Beier said that he and his partner had not decided whether the residential units would be apartments, cooperatively-owned housing, or something else. “Right now, we’re looking at all options. It could be co-op housing. It could be townhomes. It could be apartments — market-rate apartments,” he explained.
At public input meetings last winter, some neighbors expressed a preference for owner-occupied housing and some Winonans said they were looking for different owner-occupied options, such as condos or co-op housing. “It’s definitely something we’re going to explore because we’ve had some interest,” Beier said of co-op housing.
Beier continued, “We did explore the daycare [idea]. We did meet with some people to make the building a daycare because we’d thought that’d be really great … But we met with four different parties, and it just didn’t work financially for them.”
The Central school property is currently zoned half R-2 (medium-density residential) and R-3 (high-density residential). Because of its previous life as a school, the city’s comprehensive plan designates the land for “semi-public/institutional” use. At Monday’s meeting, the Planning Commission will consider changing the comprehensive plan designation from “semi-public/institutional” to “neighborhood commercial.” That move would support Nisbit and Beier’s ultimate goal: getting the property rezoned to “mixed-use neighborhood” (MU-N), a zoning district that allows for a mix of first-floor commercial and upstairs apartments.
Beier could have sought R-3 zoning, which would allow numerous residential units, but not any commercial space. The MU-N zoning Beier and Nisbit are seeking allows for a mix of first-floor commercial and upstairs dwellings. The city created the MU-N zone in 2017 to expand the options for redeveloping historic stores along Mankato Avenue and West Fifth Street while still fitting in with surrounding single-family homes. Asked why he wanted to pursue mixed-use development, Beier explained, “You’re kind of seeing that more and more — that mixed use works really well with residential.” Beier noted his Island City Properties building on Huff Street features apartments above a yoga studio and coffee shop. Having those businesses on the first floor is a perk that attracts residential tenants, he explained. “What’s nice about it is, you can have some amenities in the building that you wouldn’t have if it’s just purely residential,” he stated.
Many neighbors have said they are open to mixed-use development. “At the end of the day we really want it to fit in with the neighborhood whatever we do,” Beier stated.
As for the rest of the block, Beier said, “We don’t have any plans at this time.” He continued, “Phase one of this is just taking care of the building, the Central building, and then we’d probably look into possibly doing some condos, but we really don’t have a plan.”
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing before its vote on Beier’s comprehensive plan change request. The City Council would make the final decision. If the comprehensive plan change is approved, rezoning the property would require another public hearing and another set of Planning Commission and City Council votes in the future.
Affordable housing proposed at Mankato Ave.
In what would be the first new affordable housing for low-income Winonans built in decades, Wisconsin-based Commonwealth Development Corporation wants to construct a 41-unit apartment building on Mankato Avenue. The site, 602 Mankato Avenue, is a piece of vacant land just north of Shives Road and next to other large apartment buildings.
Commonwealth Development is applying for low-income housing tax credits from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, which would give the developers tax breaks in exchange for maintaining low rents and income restrictions on tenants. The apartments would provide affordable housing for Winonans earning 60 percent of the area median income — around $24,600 — or less. Those units would help meet a large need.
According to the U.S. American Community Survey, 2,929 Winona households earn less than $25,000 a year — more than a quarter of all households in the city. The city’s 2016 housing study identified affordable low-income housing a major need in the city, with virtually zero openings available and a years-long waiting list for public housing and Section 8 vouchers.
Despite the march of new market-rate and luxury apartment developments in recent years, it has been years since new apartments serving lower-income Winonans have been built.
There have been recent projects to renovate and preserve affordable low-income housing in Winona, but no new construction since the 1990s, Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin stated. “So having additional units and new units, especially when we have basically a zero-percent vacancy rate in this category, it seems to make sense to work with a developer on this,” she said.
Commonwealth Development has asked the city to rezone the site from R-2 (medium-density residential) to R-3 (high-density residential). The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Monday before making its recommendation to the City Council.
Public hearings start at 4:30 p.m.
The Planning Commission will meet on Monday, May 13, at 4:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers on the third floor of city hall, 207 Lafayette Street. Citizens will be invited to make comments during multiple public hearings throughout the meeting. The meeting agenda packet is available online at www.cityofwinona.com under the link “Go to Public Documents.”
The HPC will hold a public hearing on naming the Park Brewing Company building a local historic site on Wednesday, May 15, at 4 p.m. in the City Council chambers on the third floor of city hall.