Fire-ravaged lot on Alexandria's Broadway brims with business potential

The property at Fifth Avenue and Broadway has sparked interest, according to Nicole Fernholz, executive director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission.

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A lot along Broadway and Fifth Avenue in Alexandria, which once contained four historic buildings, now stands empty after a fire in February, 2020. (Echo Press file photo)

An empty lot on Alexandria’s Broadway is filled with possibilities.

But there haven’t been any takers to build anything there – yet.

The lot at Fifth Avenue and Broadway once housed four historic buildings but that all came to a crashing end on February 25, 2020, when an early morning fire reduced them to rubble.

The debris from the buildings that once housed Raapers Eatery and Ale, RM Tattoo, Charlie’s Bazaar, Little Darlings Children’s Boutique, Achieve Wellness and Hidden Treasures Collectibles and Comics was hauled away last spring.

In their place is a vacant prime piece of property in the heart of downtown.


The owners of the lot – Raapers owners Andy and Cammie Rassat, TVW LLC and Wilhouse Properties LLC – haven’t moved forward with any plans to rebuild on the site, according to city officials

The property, however, has sparked interest, said Nicole Fernholz, executive director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission.

“We have been contacted several times in the last year from potential developers, as well as parties interested in simply being part of a design process,” Fernholz said. “Primarily, the businesses are niche retail stores and some small cafes.”

The Economic Development Commission would like to see a business similar to the current landscape of downtown, Fernholz added.

“Our historic downtown is an attraction and it’s important that we maintain that integrity,” she said.

City Planner Mike Weber said a few people have also reached out to the city about the site.

“During the 12 months since the fire occurred, we have had a number of inquiries about redevelopment, but none has reached the level of even preliminary sketch review,” Weber said. “No applications have been submitted for any kind of new construction on any of the sites.”

Weber put to rest some misinformation that’s been floating around that the site isn’t buildable because it’s so close to the state highway.


“The existing zoning in the downtown area is B-2 – Regional Business,” Weber said. “The zoning setback is zero feet on all sides, so a building can be built right to the property lines, including the east line, which would be adjacent to Broadway/Highway 29.”

Weber added that no private parking is required to serve the site, since it’s located in the area served by the city’s municipal parking lots.

One factor that has hampered future plans at the site is the pandemic, Fernholz said.

“There were so many unknowns last year as we made our way through a pandemic,” she said. “Couple that with rising building costs, and one can see that COVID has stalled potential development on the site.”

Incentives are available to help developers, owners or businesses with financing, Fernholz said.

“Both the city of Alex and our office have revolving loan funds that can assist with a project,” she said. “Additionally, a developer can request creation of a Tax Increment Financing district from the Economic Development Authority to help with the costs of redevelopment.”

Fernholz added there are many requirements that must be met for this approval, and requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

She said the AAEDC’s website, , has a list of financial incentives, along with application forms and guidelines.


Depending on the scope of the project, there may also be the opportunity to work with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development in obtaining incentives, Fernholz said.

Meanwhile, the empty lot continues to spark memories about how uniquely special those 100-year-old buildings were and speculation over what kind of new development will take their place.

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Debris was cleared from the site of the Feb. 25, 2020, fire that destroyed six businesses in downtown Alexandria. (Echo Press file photo)

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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