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Exploring the future: Minnesota House investment committee tours Kirkbride

The East detached end of the Regional Treatment center is part of a phase step plan approved by the city council. It is a hope to detach the East and West end buildings of the RTC in hopes that developers will take more interest in the separate buildings. Kaley Sievert/Daily Journal1 / 2
A photo of the RTC Campus Phased Redevelopment. Provided.2 / 2

The Regional Treatment Center has had a history of proposed redevelopment plans and searches for interested developers, but all of these plans have fallen through. The city took possession of RTC in 2007 and has largely wanted to save the building. Now, the City Council is taking a different perspective on the RTC including a phase redevelopment plan that looks at deconstruction, cleanup and renovation.

Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schierer was a key voice in a tour of the RTC yesterday and the House Capital Investment Committee came to listen.

"Everyone in this community has some connection to this property and the community wants to see this property saved but in the same respect, in the last 12 years, we have exhausted the public sentiment for the building," Schierer said.

He said the city has looked at all 650,000 square feet of the building in multiple aspects, but in 2014, the mindset of the City Council changed. The city council has felt they have done everything they can do in looking for developers interested in the building, but no developer is interested in taking on all 650,000 square feet. They are more focused on parts of the structure.

"We have to bite on this differently, taking a phased approach," Schierer said.

Rep. Bud Nornes was at the tour as well and said there will be a request for bonding to fund renovation or demolition of buildings a part of the RTC. The state has provided some bonding money up to this time, supplying funds for new water and sewer lines and various other projects.

"I am hoping that as much of it as possible can be saved and reused," Nornes said. "We don't want just empty spaces, but something to happen to these buildings."

What a phased development means:

According to Andrew Bremseth, the city administrator, the city is looking at the property of RTC in phases, designating different spaces as demolition ready or something they hope to renovate. The House Capital Investment Committee and people who attended the tour were handed a map that color coded and numbered different buildings on the RTC building based on the phase they were a part of.

Phase one is yellow, highlighting the underground tunnels, buildings that were built with no historical significance in the first place and hallways that attach West Detached and East Detached (named detached because they were originally separate buildings). These sections are set for demolition, with money reallocated from the state, the city is ready to go forward with this phase in the next month or two, but are waiting for the go ahead from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). If SHPO decides taking down the tunnels takes away from the historical significance of the RTC property, for example, they can withdraw the RTC from the list of nationally recognized historical sites, which would take away historic tax money needed to renovate the buildings the City Council aims to keep.

Joel Carlson, the city lobbyist also present at the tour, said that it's important that phase one takes place.

"In this phased approach the city would like to implement phase one and get the East and West end detached, because we think a developer will take and redevelop those two structures, because they are really unique," Carlson said. "But, they probably won't do it if it is connected to another 600,000 square feet that they would have liability for and not know what is going to happen to it down the road."

Phase two is in red, highlighting the gymnasium and cafeteria, other buildings likely for demolition and cleanup. Phase three is in blue, highlighting the part of the RTC property that creates a horseshoe around the main administrative tower and connects the West Detached building and East Detached.

Phase four is in green, highlighting the West Detached and East Detached buildings. West Detached was the first built on the property and East was the second, making the Tower the third and the horseshoe part last, connecting them all in one continuous structure.

Bremseth said the reason for demolition and selective renovation of the buildings is to hopefully attract more developers.

"We are looking at reducing the size of the building so it is more manageable and more attainable for any development proposal that could come forward," Bremseth said. "We are wanting to take the property a bite at a time."

Why save some and demolish the rest?

According to Schierer, this redevelopment phase came from a community conversation with executive director of the Otter Tail Historical Society, Chris Schuelke. West Detached is in the worst condition, but it is also the most historical.

"He said he had to draw a line from a historical perspective, because the council had started talking about which buildings to take down and that is when we began to say, 'what is truly historic and how do we save what is historic on this campus?'" Schierer said.

That is why the City Council is focusing on the aspects of the property highlighted in phase one and two for demolition and at phase three and four for renovation. However, if they do not get approval from SHPO and cannot receive historic tax credits to save the buildings of choice, other buildings could be subject to demolition. However, that would be the very last path to take and the main tower of RTC will never be touched.

What's happened so far

Here is the history of proposed redevelopment projects and actions already acted upon on the RTC property:

• 16 years of attempts to redevelop the campus

• Three Request for Proposal documents (solicits proposals for developing property) processes to locate a developer

• Three international marketing campaigns

• Three grant amendment agreements made through legislative action

• 17 development proposals vetted. Many other developer tours.

• An estimated $50,000 of staff time dedicated to the RTC each year

• Four months to clean out the building and conduct an auction in 2009. All profits were returned to the state after expenses.

• To date, $5.2 million has been spent of state grant expenditures on the property, including the demolition of the Incinerator building, rehabilitation of the sanitary sewer and water, select preservation/demolition of buildings and tunnels and much more.

So far, the Otter Tail County has successfully renovated 86,323 square feet for the Government Services Center and the city sold Parcels A and B to Campus Development Group who restored the two buildings into apartments and designated 13 acres in front of the structure as permanent parkland (Kirkbride Park) etc.