A demolition permit request for the former Olmsted County Bank and Trust building is intended to accelerate determination of whether the downtown building is a local landmark, but its owners said they have no intention of leveling the 103-year-old structure.
“The main goal, of course, is not to demolish the property, but instead revitalize it,” property owner Mike Hawkins and a representative of Capital Ventures LLC wrote in a letter sent to Rochester Heritage Preservation Commission Chairwoman Christine Schultze.
The demolition permit request was submitted as the Heritage Preservation Commission was slated to review concepts for expanding the building at 7 Second St. SW.
The concept being proposed by Capital Ventures would create a third story within the building’s existing structure and then add two more floors.
Dana Hlebichuk, an architect with Widseth Smith Nolting, told the commission Tuesday that preliminary concepts largely leave the existing building façade untouched, but alley windows would be added to get the most out of the building’s interior.
“We’re very limited on square footage in this building,” he told the commission.
He said the limited space would make it difficult to recess the additional floors from the front of the building, which is favored by state and federal preservationists.
“Financially, you can’t make that project work,” he said of the proposal to set back the addition.
With potential plans for a restaurant, retail space and possible boutique hotel, he said more work would be needed for final plans on the building.
“We are going through the design process right now,” he said.
While the commission provided a “courtesy review” of the project and offered unanimous support for the concept, it does not have the authority to make a binding decision until a building permit is requested.
The proposed alterations would require a review of the building, since it was designated as a potential city landmark in 2019.
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David Pederson, a Dunlop Seeger attorney representing Capital Ventures and a former commission member, said the building’s potential landmark status creates a conflict for developers, since they don’t want to invest in designs without knowing whether the project has a chance of being approved by commission members.
At the same time, city ordinance doesn’t allow a formal review until a building permit is sought, which requires the costly designs.
Schultze, who worked with Pederson in creating the current preservation ordinance, said the conflict led to the application filed Tuesday.
“They may apply for the demolition permit because it puts it at the top of our list,” she said.
Pederson predicted other developers are likely to take similar action whenever the historic status of a building is in question, since it's the least expensive path to a review.
“As a property owner, that’s what you are going to have to do to clear the issue,” he said
The permit application will require the commission to make a final recommendation next month on whether the former Olmsted County Bank building is a city landmark, followed by a June decision by the Rochester City Council, which would be needed to approve demolition.
Commission Vice Chairman Mark Carlson said the situation creates an adversarial situation, citing support for the potential reuse of the building but opposition for demolition.
“I don’t think anyone wants to see the building demolished,” he said, calling for the building’s owners to pull the demolition permit request and allow the commission to find another path to review.
Hawkins’ son and business partner, A.J. Hawkins, told the commission there was no intent to create conflict, but the potential sellers and buyers wanted to spur an official review. .
“The demo permit was not to make a hostile situation,” he said, adding that all involved support finding a route to save the building. “It was more of a formality.”
While unable to make an official determination Tuesday, the commission supported finding a way to maintain the downtown building.
“This is a great example of adaptive reuse,” commission member Gail Eadie said, noting that it might not meet purists’ definition of historic preservation.
Commission member Tom Meilander said it’s important to activate the building, which has been vacant throughout most of the pandemic.
“In order for a building like this to exist, it has to live,” he said. “It’s not a museum.”
Commission member Barry Skolnick said liked the concept but hopes future designs will take into consideration recommendations from the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, which would be more inline with expectations for a building on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rochester Community Development Director Cindy Steinhauser said her team will continue working with Mike and A.J Hawkins, as well as Capital Ventures and the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency, to find a path that can preserve and reactivate the historic building.
“At this point, we don’t have a final sense of what that would look like,” she said. “I will say our team is committed to making this a win-win situation.”
If the demolition permit request remains in place, the Heritage Preservation Commission will likely hold a May 25 public hearing on the project, followed by a June 21 City Council review.