Community members gathered under the hot afternoon sun for the ceremonial groundbreaking at the Main Square project site along Main Street.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
Construction on the Main Square Community project is officially underway, as city officials, businesses and community members gathered for the official project groundbreaking on Thursday. The much-anticipated structure will be opening in 2019 with apartments, commercial space, Winona Health services, underground parking and a Montessori school.
Fastenal founder Bob Kierlin made the introductions, recalling his time as a child downtown. He said the project is a homecoming for him, bringing him full circle to where he was raised.
“I was looking for a project that would benefit Winona, and I believe this is it,” Kierlin said.
The Hardee’s lot, now a massive sand pit, was closed off to parking several weeks ago after a long series of changes and sales. Last year, Winona’s Port Authority purchased the restaurant building for $800,000, securing the lot for a larger development project. After the Port offered it for sale, Kierlin announced that his newly created company, Main Square Development, LLC, and his family’s private foundation, the Hiawatha Education Foundation, planned to buy the lot for $1.9 million.
The main building is planned to house 20,000 square feet of commercial space, 60 luxury and market-priced apartments and underground parking for tenants, while another building on the northwest corner will house the Main Square Montessori school. While the group has been tight lipped about what potential companies will be finding a new home in the commercial space, Winona Health announced that it would be opening a 3,000 square-foot facility on the corner of Fourth and Main streets.
Kierlin claimed that when deciding who would fill the slots, Winona Health CEO Rachelle Schultz was the first call he made. Schultz, who spoke at the groundbreaking, said she was surprised to find out that she was the first on his list, but assured that she was happy to be a part of the project and was excited to bring Winona Health closer to downtown.
“We want to create a different kind of experience,” Schultz said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of downtown.”
According to a press release, Winona Health is still exploring services to be offered in the facility, and is currently looking for an architect to design the interior space. This isn’t the first time Winona Health has had a facility downtown — before moving to Sarnia Street and then to the main campus, Schultz explained, there was a downtown clinic. So much like Kierlin, this project brings the hospital full circle.
“We are pleased to be part of the vision for the Main Square development project. This is an ideal location, and we are looking forward to providing a unique care experience for people in our community,” said Schultz.
Mayor Mark Peterson also spoke at the event, thanking Kierlin for helping the city expand and reinvigorate downtown. “It’s hard to say how exciting this is. The only downside is losing the parking lot,” he joked. Winona Port Authority Commission Chair Mike Cichanowski followed, citing the importance of public and private partnerships like the Main Square project in creating a culture in downtown, spurring development and growth. “Everyone wants to make their community a great place to live and work,” he added.
It was also announced that the Main Square Montessori (MSM) school would be opening in fall 2019 as part of the Cotter School system, in a partnership with Hiawatha Education Foundation (HEF). Sister Judith Schaefer, the president of Cotter Schools, spoke about how the new school would be a big step for the community in providing early childhood education for all citizens. According to Schaefer, Kierlin gave, “only one condition — it has to be open to everyone.” HEF will provide scholarships for students in need, based on diversity, financial need and availability. The school will have space for 42 children, from 18 months old up through six year of age, with a focus on providing access to education for everyone. “As Bob always tells me, it’s all about the kids,” Sister Schaefer said.
Sixteen members of the community, including the four speakers, members of City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, and other local organizations came together to break ground with a set of golden shovels. No other announcements were made about other commercial space, but new renderings of the building were provided.
For more information on the Main Square project, visit the newly unveiled website at www.mainsquarewinona.com.