by CHRIS ROGERS
The city of Winona Port Authority’s plan to buy HBC properties abutting Main Street is advancing, city and company officials said this week. It’s part of a multi-pronged effort by the city to acquire more land around the 60 Main site — a neighboring parking lot the city hopes to get developers to turn into a hotel-apartment complex.
Last October, the Port Authority Commission directed city staff to begin formal negotiations with HBC to buy two pieces of land: the HBC Wizards office building at 67 Main Street and the easternmost part of HBC’s headquarters at 58 Johnson Street. The portion of the headquarters property the city intends to buy is a rear parking lot and satellite dish array next to the foot of Main Street and Levee Park. HBC CEO Dan Pecarina said at the time the company didn’t need the properties anymore, thanks to changes in technology and more employees working from home, and was more than happy to help the city’s downtown revitalization goals.
For city officials, their interest in the HBC land is all about the 60 Main project. The city has grand plans for the piece of prime real estate near the downtown riverfront — a hotel, apartments, and possibly a public parking ramp. However, some people involved have noted the property is a bit small for all the things the city hopes to include. So developers have eyed neighboring properties, and the city is in ongoing talks with Union Pacific Railroad (UP) on acquiring part of an adjacent rail yard. The HBC deal is the latest effort to expand the project’s footprint.
On Jan. 24, the city Planning Commission signed off on splitting off the portion of the HBC headquarters property the city intends to buy. Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin said the HBC land would be used for parking in the near term — to help replace some of the parking that would be lost in the 60 Main project — and could be a site for some other development down the road. “We anticipate that it could be parking for quite some time because some will be lost through 60 Main,” McMartin told the Planning Commission.
Pecarina said, “It seems to be some property that if we moved it to the city and Port Authority, it would be very, very helpful and beneficial to the city and the residents of Winona and business in Winona going forward, as soon as certain other things develop. Obviously Levee Park developed quite well, and it’s been a great, great thing … and we’d like to see if there is anything that we can do to help.”
A final sale between the city and HBC is still a ways off, McMartin said.
Responding to questions about the proposed new parking lot’s layout, McMartin mentioned that the city hopes to create some shared parking north of HBC’s property, an apparent reference to part of the UP rail yard. Beyond that, she said, “We’re looking at the different configurations and have not finalized it.”
Joe Gale, the owner of neighboring Lackore Electric Motor Repair, spoke at the meeting, expressing concerns about truck access to his business. He said semi-trailers were unwilling to drive under the new Levee Park gateway at Main Street, and his calls for the city to remove a couple on-street parking spaces at Johnson Street to enable trucks to access the alley went unaddressed. “I feel like I’m being squeezed out,” he said. “Please —whatever you’re going to do — take that into mind,” he asked.
Planning Commission members Dan Hall and Paul Schollmeier were serious about trying to address Gale’s concern, with Schollmeier raising the prospect of making approval of the HBC property split contingent on Gale’s request. “What needs to be done to get some action on his reasonable requests?” Hall asked. City Planner Carlos Espinosa said the Planning Commission would have a chance to review truck access during a later stage in the development of the new parking lot — once a site plan was proposed — but such a step was inappropriate for the time being. The Planning Commission approved the split unanimously.