by CHRIS ROGERS
Sayonara, Winona County Government Center. Main Square Development, the new owner of 177 Main Street in downtown Winona, plans to demolish the building and use the property as a parking lot for the time being.
The Winona County Board sold its former headquarters to Bob Kierlin’s Main Square Development, LLC, for $700,000 last year. Main Square Development is the company behind the $25-million Main Square Community project across the street from the government center. Main Square Community’s tall, new building on the former “Hardee’s block” includes apartments, offices, stores, a Winona Health clinic, and a bistro; Main Square Montessori preschool is on the same block. After selling the government center, the county leased the building and continued to occupy it while staff prepared to move to the county’s other downtown office building, the Winona County Office Building on West Third Street. That lease is up at the end of this year.
“We’re just going to tear it down and assess what the parking needs are for the tenants,” Main Square Community Property Manager Tom Hoseck said in an interview, referring to tenants of Main Square Community. “It’s going to get demolished and the situation with the parking is going to be reviewed for a while, and we’ll see what it looks like. Do we need the parking? Could it be used for something else down the road? We don’t know,” he explained.
Hoseck’s comments raised the possibility that a new structure could be built at the 177 Main Street property someday, but he said the company does not have plans for that, adding that the firm wants to see what the parking needs are at Main Square Community once that development is at full capacity.
Asked whether Main Square considered keeping the existing government center building, Hoseck responded, “We did look at remodeling it, but with a lot of the requirements that the city has for commercial space and just the infrastructure of the building, it would have cost as much to reuse it and make it something that would be up to the same quality. It would have been just too expensive.” He continued, “Rebuilding something else is probably as costly as reusing what’s already there.”
County leaders wanted to sell the government center in the first place, in part, to avoid an estimated $900,000 in deferred maintenance needs for the building, such as replacing its roof and heating and ventilating system.
“Their reasons are essentially the same reasons we didn’t reuse it,” Hoseck stated. He pointed to the government center’s aging boiler system and the basement vaults from the building’s days as a bank. “You really couldn’t use that space for anything,” Hoseck explained. “You’ve got a vault, and it’s got a 10,000-pound door on it. If you’re going to make it an office, it’s kind of an odd office. There’s no windows in the basement. The windows in the building are really inefficient. So the decision was made to take it down, and it’ll provide some additional parking for our project until we know what the future needs are going to be.”
Meanwhile, construction is coming along on the Main Square Community building. Hoseck said it is expected to open early next year. Nodding to other construction projects and new businesses downtown, he added, “We’re excited there’s all this going on downtown and we hope to add to the vibrancy and success of other businesses.”
Winona will lose on-street parking by Main Square
The city of Winona may lose around 11 on-street parking spaces on Fourth and Johnson streets next to the Main Square Community and Main Square Montessori in order to meet Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) requirements and allow for school bus loading at the preschool.
Winona City Engineer Brian DeFrang explained that Mn/DOT engineers — who have jurisdiction over that stretch of Fourth Street, part of State Highway 43 — had concerns about the ability for cars exiting Main Square’s parking lot to see around cars parked on the street. If there was on-street parking on the south side of Fourth Street, DeFrang explained, “Cars on Fourth Street heading eastbound would not be easily seen by cars leaving the parking lot.” Mn/DOT engineers ruled that the parking lot driveways would not meet the state’s sight distance requirements if there was on-street parking. The state required the city to remove around eight on-street parking spaces on the south side of the 150 block of West Fourth Street, city staff said.
“To clear the whole street for that seems strange,” City Council member Pam Eyden said. Before voting to approve a no-parking zone on that side of Fourth Street, she and other council members pointed out that, prior to the Main Square construction project, there was on-street parking on Fourth Street and cars pulling out of a mid-block alleyway. “That was our argument — that it always worked before,” DeFrang agreed. However, Mn/DOT officials expected to see increased traffic from the new development, he stated. “We didn’t see it as a super huge increase in traffic, but it’s their road, their rules ... We definitely made an argument, but we didn’t win.”
The council also voted to eliminate another three on-street parking spaces on Johnson Street, in order to create a school bus loading zone in front of the new Montessori preschool. Mayor Mark Peterson and other council members requested that city staff contact the school and see if it would be possible to allow public parking in the evening in that zone, during non-school hours. It is only a few parking spaces, Peterson said. However, he added, “I think we can add a couple evening parking spaces there, I think that would definitely help.”
The City Council voted unanimously to approve the new no-parking zones.