After Millions Spent on Renovation, Albert Lea Landmark Sits Vacant

Posted at: 09/10/2013 11:31 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- As the City of Albert Lea spends nearly $4 million on a streetscape project to improve the downtown area, one of the district's crowning jewels sits vacant.

In 2001, the City of Albert Lea purchased the Freeborn Bank Building for the low price of $75,000.

Since then, the building has had zero tenants, sitting vacant despite the city spending roughly $2 million on renovations to the building's exterior.

But city officials say the problem with getting tenants into the building is a matter of cost, with experts estimating it would take $4-6 million to renovate completely.

“A lot of it just comes down to the price tag,” said Chad Adams, city manager for Albert Lea. “It's a beautiful building and to bring it back to its original state, a lot of dollars are involved and are needed."

But there is one group ready to set up shop in the old bank.

The Albert Lea Art Center is unhappy at its current location across the street, and officials say the bank building would make the perfect new home.

“It’s wide, open spaces, with a beautiful interior that needs a lot of work,” said Bev Jackson Cotter, the group’s treasurer. “But there are just so many options, we could do so many things with it."

On Monday, the Albert Lea City Council approved a preliminary tax increase to help pay for infrastructure projects.

And in spite of the art center's eagerness, and the fact that the city has yet to start collecting on its multi-million dollar investment, city officials are still cautious to begin moving in tenants one at a time.

“They city doesn't want to retain ownership forever,” Adams said. “So if we're kind of piecemealing it, are we going to be a landlord? Are we going to be condo-ing that out? So there are some different constraints with that."

On Tuesday, city officials held a public forum to get more input on what residents would like to see done with the building.

Officials said they hope to work something out soon as they see the Freeborn Bank Building as a critical part of their overall downtown improvement project.