Jail demolition not out of the question
By Emily Bialkowski
Even if it’s not the Houston County Board’s first choice, research has begun on the possibility of demolishing the old jail now that the Justice Center is fully operational.
The jail is listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places, which naturally adds a lot of red tape to the proposition.
A representative from the Minnesota Historical Society presented the board information on their options at the July 3 meeting.
Mary Ann Heidemann, manager of governmental programs at the society, said she has seen this situation play out before.
“I appreciate your quandary. These buildings are old and hard to maintain,” Heidemann said.
Complicating the issue is the fact the national registry lists the jail with courthouse. They have been on the registry since 1981.
“I was contacted by the county with what seemed like a simple request: How do we take our jail off the registry because we want to take it down,” Heidemann said.
“When a building is on the national registry it meets nationally-important criteria for the state and country as a whole. (See chart) Things are only taken off if they lose the qualities that got them on,” she added.
Heidemann encouraged board members to look at the structure as an asset as opposed to “the albatross around your neck.”
To sweeten the idea Heidemann offered information on multiple funding sources that could help pay for a study or improvement projects.
The first source comes from the state’s Legacy Grant Program. It has been in existence for 23 years and supports parks, clean water, arts and cultural affairs. The grants come in varying amounts, and Heidemann expressed confidence that the county would qualify for several thousand dollars to at least hire a firm to study re-use options.
The other funding option is slightly more complicated and deals with tax incentives if the building could produce income. In this instance the county might lease the structure or sell it to lawyers, real estate agents or social service groups. It would essentially become an office building.
Heidemann said the Twin Cities is cashing in on this program big time. “Those incentives can be helpful to a developer,” she said.
If the county decides it wants to forego these options and pay for a demolition without state funding there are statutes that require them to fill out an environmental assessment worksheet through the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board.
If the county uses state funding to help pay for a demolition then the historical society gets involved.
“That’s where I come in and say, ‘Have you looked at all your options,’” Heidemann said.
County Commissioner Jack Miller said demolition is not what he prefers but admitted there hasn’t been any ideas to the contrary. “The issue is checking all of our options. If the only viable option is to get rid of it then we wanted to know if we could do that,” he said.
The simple answer is yes, but not without red tape.
“We have walked down this road with other small communities who tried to find a use and haven’t, and then we know you tried your best and we say OK,” Heidemann said.
Miller joked that the jail could be turned into a bed and breakfast, and Heidemann indicated that stranger things have happened.
The county took no action on the item but expects to continue the conversation.