The former Seneca Foods site could become green space for a few years after the building is demolished.
“We’ll get it torn down, get it cleaned up, and maybe next year we could have a different vision,” Olmsted County Board Chairman Matt Flynn said, pointing to concerns regarding the potential cost of developing the site amid tight budgets.
“Everybody is very conservative or nervous,” he said, pointing to potential development partners, who are likely dealing with uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic. .
The county purchased 11 acres at the intersection of 12th Street and Third Avenue Southeast last year for $5.6 million with the expectation that it would be considered for a potential hub connecting two mixed-use developments with a dedicated rapid-transit line through downtown Rochester.
When the city’s plan changed, the county board suggested it could look at other options.
The county has removed asbestos from the facility and plans to have the building leveled within the next 12 months.
Mat Miller, the county’s director of facilities and building operations, said leaving the site vacant for one to three years will provide flexibility in case the city opts to work on a transit plan heading south from downtown or another development opportunity emerges.
He also said the county could use the time to consider options for investing in rehabilitation of the iconic ear of corn water tower.
Commissioners discussed the possibility of folding the site into nearby Graham Park but urged caution since the move could limit future options.
“I’m not sure we want to start limiting our choices.” commissioner Sheila Kiscaden said.
In order to keep other options open, the commissioners said they want to wait on a final decision regarding potential state funding for an expo center on Graham Park.
While Minnesota House lawmakers had recommended borrowing $12.5 million for the project, the Senate didn’t include the project in its proposal. A compromise on the bonding bills wasn’t achieved, but the Legislature could reach a compromise during a future special session.
Commissioners said that if the state funding doesn’t move forward, the county may need to look at other options, which could involve a public-private partnership for creation of an expo center.
“If we don’t get the bonding, we know what kind of hill that is to climb year after year,” commissioner Ken Brown said.
Miller said the goal is to continue to move forward with plans defined in the 2018 master plan to make sure the county can react if funding becomes available.
Kiscaden said local businesses have expressed interest in partnering to redevelop the park, which also serves as home of the Olmsted County Fair.
“I think we need to keep our options open,” she said.