by CHRIS ROGERS
Over the last three and half months, Fastenal founder Bob Kierlin’s Main Square Development spent over $2.4 million buying up eight residential properties on the edge of downtown Winona. A representative said the company has contracts to purchase a couple more properties and is interested in acquiring an entire block south of the Winona County Courthouse. Some of the properties will be used for parking as part of the Minnesota Masterpiece Hall project, while others were purchased for their future development potential, according to Kierlin and the representative.
Main Square Development constructed the major apartment-commercial complex Main Square Community at Fifth and Main streets in 2018. It is currently preparing to build the Minnesota Masterpiece Hall at the site of the former Winona Middle School auditorium — a classical music venue and art gallery that Kierlin hopes will draw audiences from across North America with world-class concerts and art, including some famous paintings previously on display at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.
Three of the eight properties are on the same block as Washington Crossings — the apartment building that occupies the former middle school — and immediately adjacent to the Masterpiece Hall site. “The properties that are behind the middle school, really that’s going to wind up being incorporated into the music hall for parking, some extra space and then parking for Washington Crossings,” Main Square Senior Real Estate Manager Tom Hoseck said. As part of Main Square Development’s deal to acquire the former auditorium site for Minnesota Masterpiece Hall, Main Square agreed to replace parking the apartment complex lost in the deal. The properties on that block will be used to provide that parking, as well as parking for the new venue, Hoseck and Kierlin said. “I would imagine that before next spring we would have parking there,” Hoseck said of the construction timetable, adding that existing leases might delay development at some properties.
Hoseck also said Main Square is interested in the Kappa Chi fraternity house on that block but that no deal had been struck.
The other five properties are located across Fifth Street from the Masterpiece Hall site, on the same block as the downtown BP gas station. Kierlin said, “The homes that we’ve been buying on the block across from Masterpiece Hall and also across the street from Main Square — we’re buying them just in anticipation without having any definite plan, but knowing that when Masterpiece Hall opens in 2025, there would probably be a scramble for use of some of the properties on that block. So we’re just being preemptive to be ready in case we can use it in any way.”
In a July interview, Hoseck said Main Square was interested in acquiring that entire block north of Fifth Street. Last week, he echoed that, saying, “We would, potentially, [be interested] if people are open to it.” He added, “We’ve already got a lot of the block under contract,” explaining that some property owners had already signed purchase agreements but that the sales had not closed yet.
Hoseck said of the properties on that block, “It could be future commercial space. It could be future apartments. We don’t have any plan, necessarily, it’s just if we own it, we can decide what the needs are in the area later.” There really is no set plan, Hoseck said when pressed. “[Kierlin] is building a very big complex across the street, and there’s limited space, so when that’s finished, if they need additional parking, then we have that option,” he added.
“Some of it could be parking, but I suspect it could be more than that,” Kierlin told the Post. “We’ll probably let Masterpiece Hall finish and see what kind of reception it has. Like we mentioned to you before, we think it will be pretty spectacular in what it offers.”
Kierlin said the music hall project is advancing on schedule and that it will build on other investments in downtown Winona and attract visitors to boost Winona’s economy. Pointing to the nearby library, art galleries, and museum, he added, “[Minnesota Masterpiece Hall] really seems to fit what could happen in that section of the community.”
These blocks — some of the closest residential blocks to the core of downtown — have long been discussed by city officials as possible areas for expanding downtown development. In 2018, around the time Main Square Community was being built, the city’s Port Authority Commission had commission member and then-Fastenal Vice President Dana Johnson speak with property owners about possibly selling their land to the city for future development. Nothing came of the conversations.
All of the properties are zoned R-3 (high-density residential), meaning large apartment buildings and other residential uses are allowed but most commercial uses and standalone parking lots are not. However, the properties are immediately next to downtown zoning districts that allow for a range of commercial, residential, and parking uses, and the future land use designations in the city’s 2007 comprehensive plan earmark them as well-suited for a change to downtown zoning.