by CHRIS ROGERS
After a hearing last Wednesday, the city of Winona’s Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) delayed its proposal to designate a 117-year-old building owned by Bay State Milling as a local historic site. Instead, the HPC changed its focus to verifying that the building’s condition is as bad as the company says it is and negotiating with Bay State Milling about whether parts of the brewery could be saved — even if most of it is demolished — and how to ensure the new warehouse fits in with Winona’s historic downtown.
Bay State Milling wants to demolish the former Park Brewing Company building to make way for a new warehouse that company officials say is crucial to the mill’s success. In a bid to save the brewery, the HPC proposed in April naming the building as a local historic site, which would require Bay State Milling to ask the HPC or the City Council for approval of any exterior modifications to the building, including demolition.
This month, the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) endorsed the HPC’s proposal, while the city’s Planning Commission advised against it. Now it is up to the HPC to decide whether to scrap the proposal or send it on to the City Council for a final decision. However, after Bay State Milling leaders shared more information last week about the building’s poor condition, the HPC went with a third option: delaying its decision.
“I wasn’t aware of the significant damage on the inside … It changed a little bit of my focus,” HPC member Merle Hanson said after Bay State Milling Winona Plant Manager Al Simanovski shared images of the brewery’s bowing foundation walls and crumbling floors.
“I wouldn’t want you to save that,” HPC member Carl Sandquist said of the deteriorating brewery building. However, Sandquist said he would like Bay State Milling to save just the facade of the old building and incorporate it into the new warehouse.
Simanovski shared a slideshow of a structural engineer’s report on the Park Brewing building that detailed significant deterioration of the building. He also shared a conceptual drawing of Bay State Milling’s proposed new warehouse, with a brick and limestone facade intended to mimic downtown storefronts. “As I look at all those things,” Simanovski said of the current building’s problems, “and compare it to that [design for a new warehouse], there’s no question in my mind what we need to do.”
Bay State Milling supporters and some of its over 100 employees dominated a public hearing on Wednesday, urging the HPC not to stand in the way of the company’s survival. The HPC is focused on preserving historic buildings, Bay State Milling employee John Ratz said, but whatabout preserving jobs?
Historic buildings have value, Bay State Milling employee Robert Mikols said, describing how Winona’s churches always wowed him. As for the Park Brewing building, though, he said, “I never wanted to bring my kids down and say, ‘Hey, want to look at this?’” Mikols added, “I like to think that the people I work with, they and their families and some of the volunteer work they do, they have a lot of value.”
The brewery building may have historic value, but so does keeping a 120-year-old mill in business, Winona Area Chamber of Commerce President Della Schmidt argued. Bay State Milling is one of the last major family-owned milling companies, but it competes in a global market, she noted. “For them to remain competitive, they must be allowed to make these operational changes,” she stated.
Look at the new warehouse Bay State Milling is proposing, Bay State Milling employee Dustin Sanborn told the HPC. “I think that whatever they’re going to do is going to blend in very well, and they’re making a lot of efforts to get people involved in that so it is something the community can be proud of,” he stated.
A few citizens testified in support of the HPC’s proposal. Once these buildings are gone, they’re gone forever,” Winonan Mark Harris said of the historic brewery, adding that Bay State Milling owns other, underutilized real estate it might be able to use for its warehouse. Winonan Lynette Power praised Bay State Milling’s offer to allow a bike path to be built across its property, but said of the proposed demolition, “It breaks my heart to see Bay State take down another one of our historic buildings.”
Obviously both jobs and history are important, Winonan Michael Bowler said, and it does not have to be one or the other. “There’s a lot of Winonans that would like to see compromise. I think that’s the name of the game,” he stated.
With that spirit in mind, HPC Chair Kendall Larson asked Simanovski if Bay State Milling would be willing to share more information about the condition of its building and talk with the HPC and SHPO about potential options to save the facade of the old brewery or pieces from the old brewery. If there really are no options for saving parts of the building, then the community can accept that, but there should be a discussion, Larson stated. HPC members also wanted to review the designs for the new warehouse. Larson said that new structures that try to mimic the look of historic buildings, although well-intentioned, sometimes wind up looking “awkward.”
“What are you looking for?” Simanovski responded. Bay State Milling has met with numerous city officials to explain why the brewery cannot be saved and to get input on the new warehouse design, he noted. Simanovski said he was not sure what more the company could do. “What do you want from us? What’s going to satisfy you?” he asked.
Simanovski cited Bay State Milling Vice President Keith Adams’ request at the HPC’s April meeting as evidence of Bay State Milling’s attempts to work with the HPC. At that time, Adams asked the HPC to hold off on its historic designation proposal so Bay State Milling could work together with the HPC and the city on a solution; the HPC declined to delay its proposal.
Adams also told the HPC that Bay State Milling had no plans for the brewery building. Around the same time or shortly after, Bay State Milling officials met with other city leaders to discuss their plans to demolish the building.
HPC member Connie Dretske said she felt the HPC had to nominate the building as a historic site in order to get Bay State Milling to come to the table and discuss preservation options. “What this process is allowing us to do is have a conversation with you about it,” she said. “It feels like you are presenting only one option to us, which is demolition, and I’d really like to see if there’s way you could work with us and try to present some compromises … It doesn’t seem right now like you’re willing to do that,” Dretske told Simanovski.
Simanovski ultimately told the HPC members he would be willing to meet with them further and share more information. In an interview, he said, “You know, I’m not sure what they want. We’ve provided them with some significant information and what I hear up there is whatever we say is not satisfying to them. So I don’t know where to go. I guess I’m just disappointed in the process … We certainly don’t want to be bad stewards, and we absolutely respect the historical importance of Winona, and I thought that we had reflected that in everything else we’ve done to reflect the historic building in the new facade and the storyboards.” Asked if he felt Bay State Milling had already offered a lot, Simanovski answered, “I feel like we’ve definitely put together a great package.”
Simanovski explained that Bay State Milling did look into trying to save the old brewery’s facade and incorporated it into the new warehouse. The structural engineers determined that the facade was so unstable, it alone could not be saved, he said. A fifteen-foot-deep tranche of the old building, including the current building’s floors would have be to retained in order to support the facade, Simanovski reported. That would take away precious square footage from the proposed new warehouse — which requires much higher ceilings than the current building’s floors. It just would not meet Bay State Milling’s needs, Simanovski said.
The HPC must make a decision to forward the historic designation on to the City Council or scrap it by May 29. City officials said the HPC may meet with Bay State Milling at a meeting scheduled for May 29 or hold a special meeting between now and then. Keep reading the Winona Post for more information.