The city of Winona’s Port Authority Commission is considering buying property in this area west of the Hardee’s block.
Image from Winona County and Schneider Corporation’s Beacon GIS system.
by CHRIS ROGERS
After homeowners pleaded with city officials last year to keep their neighborhood residential, the City Council and Planning Commission did just that. Now, after receiving sale propositions from neighboring property owners, city officials are rethinking the future of a few blocks of houses next to big downtown developments.
Between Broadway and Fourth Street and between Winona and Johnson streets, there are a number of houses sandwiched between the Washington Crossings apartments, the courthouse, the YMCA, and the Hardee’s block, where the city just sold land to Fastenal founder Bob Kierlin for the construction of a big, new mixed-use development called the Main Square Community. Last year, as the city was overhauling its zoning ordinance, these few blocks were the subject of debate. City staff and consultants proposed them to be zoned for dense downtown business use, a designation that would have encouraged the blocks to transition from single-family homes to apartment complexes and retail stores. At the urging of some homeowners, the City Council kept the blocks’ residential zoning when it approved the new zoning code last summer.
However, the area and city officials’ interest in redeveloping it came up again at last month’s Port Authority Commission meeting. City staff members explained that since the sale of land to Kierlin’s organization for the Main Square Community project next door, they had received solicitations from landowners interested in selling their property to the city. The Port Authority Commission agreed to appoint Fastenal Vice President for Real Estate and Port Authority Commission member Dana Johnson to work with city staff in talking with interested landowners and reviewing the potential purchases. If there are favorable offers, Johnson and staff members would forward the proposed purchases to the Port Authority Commission. Also at the meeting, city planner Carlos Espinosa mentioned that, if a development project were to be proposed, the city could rezone property in that area from residential zoning to downtown business zoning.
The Port Authority’s discussion of buying up properties on those blocks came under an agenda item titled “Discussion of property and parking in downtown” with the brief description that, “City planner Carlos Espinosa will be on hand to provide zoning implications with regard to parking in downtown and the downtown fringe.” Since the announcement of big development projects that would take over existing parking and/or potentially drive up demand for parking — such as the Main Square Community project, the proposed 60 Main Street project, and Fastenal’s proposed 400-600-employee riverfront office building — city leaders have been looking for ways to create new parking spaces downtown. City manager Steve Sarvi has said the city needs more parking near the Hardee’s block, to make up for parking that will be lost to the Main Square Community project, and is looking for places to build it. The city approached Wesley United Methodist Church about using a vacant lot on its property for parking, and the Port Authority is currently negotiating a deal to forgive a $400,000 loan in exchange for land for parking at the site of the former junior high auditorium.
However, Johnson said that the city’s interest in the area was based on potential mixed-use redevelopment, not parking. “I think the Port is more interested in economic growth than parking,” Johnson stated in an interview.
He likened the new effort to the Hardee’s block and to 60 Main Street, where the city acquired property over time, used it for surface parking for a time, but with the ultimate goal of promoting new construction on the site. “Over 20 years, we [the Port Authority] were the vehicle that helped assemble that into a site that is now going to be a great development,” he said. “It may take another 20 years to assemble a block and I don’t know where that location may be,” Johnson continued.
At last month’s meeting, Johnson added, “If we have owners that are actively soliciting us … we should hear them out.”
Johnson said the Port Authority would be interested in assembling small lots into a larger parcel. Port Authority Commission member Laurie Lucas pointed out, “One little house in a block where nobody else wants to sell isn’t going to do us any good.”
Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin stated this week that so far, she has only had very preliminary discussions with property owners in the area west of the Hardee’s block. Asked what the city would want to do with their property, McMartin pointed to the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for dense residential development.
Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.