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Redevelopment of Jefferson moves forward

The redevelopment plan for the former Jefferson High School (JHS) site will move forward, but in a different way than originally planned.

Since June of 2011, Brent and Sally Smith have had a purchase agreement with Alexandria School District 206 to buy the JHS property for $2 million. The Smiths agreed to transfer the property to the Lakes Area Economic Development Authority (LAEDA) for the original $2 million purchase price.

The Alexandria Area Economic Commission (AAEDC) proposed that the 44-acre property be redeveloped into a campus-like setting for future medical and manufacturing business, education and training opportunities.

In March, LAEDA made a legislative bonding request for $2.9 million – $2 million for property acquisition and $900,000 for building demolition and abatement costs.

On May 16, the state Legislature authorized money for the project, but less than half of what was requested: $1.4 million. The bill also required that non-state funding sources of $2.6 million be committed to the project prior to receiving the state allocation.  

A press release issued by the AAEDC Monday stated that after meeting with elected officials and local economic development leaders, the decision was made to not impose any local levies to meet the state-required match.  

The release stated that tax implications to local residents for public ownership of the property, as well as the timeline for property acquisition, are not compatible with what local leaders had planned for this project.

“The investment in this project is in line with our top agenda items for the Alexandria region. However, our LAEDA and the AAEDC leaders are not comfortable imposing a levy to local residents to match funds and move forward with the project,” said Jason Murray, AAEDC executive director.

“The formal bond language also leaves too many legal questions unanswered for us to confidently meet the requirement of the current time frame of acquisition for public ownership of the property.

“We couldn’t confidently give the Smiths or District 206 a firm commitment to acquire the property under the original terms of the purchase agreement,” Murray added.

Although public ownership of the property will not happen at this time, the redevelopment project will move forward under the private ownership of the Smiths.

“The AAEDC will work with the new owners of the site to redevelop the land for a lasting positive economic impact,” Murray said. “We are confident that the Smiths have the community’s best interest at heart for the property, and they have our organization’s support as they look at redevelopment options. 

“On behalf of the economic development leaders, we would like to thank Senator Ingebrigtsen and Representative Mary Franson for their work in securing the $1.4 million in state bonding dollars.  Our intent is to continue to work with the state of Minnesota on the utilization of these dollars to spur job growth in our community,” Murray concluded.

The following statement was issued by Brent Smith:

“Sally and I thought it would be best for our community if our local economic development organizations could acquire the property and we were happy to provide the opportunity for that to happen.  While that did not work out, we very much appreciate economic development’s leadership in taking a look at this great opportunity to further community, economic and education goals for our region.   Our family will be closing on the property on September 1, 2014.  We have enjoyed dreaming about the possibilities with the AAEDC and LAEDA.”

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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