by ZACH KAYSER
The city of Winona wants to gather up land parcels from formerly state-owned property downtown — but what the newly joined larger parcel would be used for remains unknown, despite it abutting almost $400,000 worth of land Fastenal has already bought on the same block. On Thursday, the city joined Fastenal’s land acquisition efforts by buying a parcel on Fourth Street for $30,000. City officials have discussed the idea of working with Fastenal to create a parking lot on the block, but details are still sketchy.
In order to build the bridge for Interstate Highway 43 that crosses the Mississippi, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) both bought land and seized it via eminent domain. The land was deemed necessary during construction, but now that the bridge is finished the state considers it surplus. The state is required by law to get rid of the excess land within one year of the end of a construction project. Before putting the properties for sale on the open market, Mn/DOT is first offering the properties to their original owners, then to local governments for public use.
Winona officials are interested in the land that will not be bought back by the previous owners when it comes up on the market, McMartin said during a Port Authority meeting Thursday. McMartin mentioned the Port Authority’s general mission of assembling land for possible redevelopment or parking. McMartin said the city’s acquisition would give it “site control,” or the power to determine what gets built there in the future. If the rest of the block was valued the same as that parcel, it would cost the city about $450,000 to buy all of it, she said.
The block the former bridge parcels sit on could be used for development if the small parcels are combined into one or more larger ones.
During Thursday’s meeting, the Port Authority Commission voted to buy one 8,000-square-foot piece of the former bridge construction site. The owner of what used to be 266 West Fourth Street has since died and his inheriting descendants did not want to buy the land back, city staff said. Thus, it became available for the city to buy through the Port Authority. “This could be part of a larger land assembly for parking or future development at Fourth and Huff Street,” city staff wrote in a memo.
The land the city wants to assemble shares the block with land Fastenal has already purchased. Records from the Minnesota Department of Revenue show Fastenal bought the northern half of the block on Jan. 11 for $390,500 from a Winona-based LLC, JWN Properties, which had bought it from Mn/DOT on Dec. 18.
Fastenal Vice President Dana Johnson also sits on the Port Authority Commission. He abstained from the vote to buy the $30,000 parcel, which otherwise was unanimous. In an interview earlier Thursday, Johnson said Fastenal wants to get the smaller parcels united into one large parcel, but did not give a reason why beyond a general desire to see the community develop. “We don’t have any plans or designs on what to do with that piece of property between Third Street and Fourth Street and Huff Street and the bridge,” he said. “We just think it’s important from a community development standpoint to do our best to see if those other property owners would agree that it would be good for the city, good for the community, and good for the downtown if it is able to be assembled into one piece.”
Winona City Manager Steve Sarvi said Thursday it wasn’t necessary for the city to get the whole block — simply getting a smaller parcel would effectively give them control over the destiny of the land. He wasn’t aware of a definite plan for how the land would be developed, he said, but hypothetically it could be used by Fastenal or by the city, possibly for parking.“I’m sure that Fastenal would have an interest as part of their development down there,” he said. “But even if they don’t, the city might have an interest in a parking situation there, or redevelopment of that entire area to a mixed-used development.”
Asked whether the city was working with Fastenal, McMartin said Monday they were having “very preliminary discussions.”
“We haven’t discussed anything in great detail, just in general that with 400 employees, parking in the area is one of the things they’re working on,” she said. “We’re just at the stage … where we’re just trying to assemble the land.”
McMartin declined to answer when asked if the city intended to turn their land over to Fastenal, saying it was too early in the process to disclose whether or not that was the plan.