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Property deal clears way for light rail in St. Paul

By Bill Clements
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — The Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities region has agreed to buy the former Bremer Bank building in downtown St. Paul for $2.65 million so the building can be demolished, making way for the Central Corridor light rail transit line.

The council had voted in July to start eminent domain proceedings, if needed, to acquire the vacant building and its 0.6 acre of land. But formal condemnation wasn’t needed after negotiations between the council and the building’s owners produced an agreement.

The building is one of three properties that the Met Council is willing to use eminent domain to make way for the rail line. The others are an adjacent parking lot to the Bremer building and the former Diamond Products property in Lowertown.

Stuart H. Nolan, chairman of Bloomington-based Stuart Co. and co-owner of the former Bremer Bank building, said the $2.65 million sale price was “less than we felt it was worth, but like most things these days you have to compromise.”

The pending sale of the property will keep on schedule construction of the $957 million, 11-mile rail line that will connect the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, said Mark Fuhrmann, the Met Council’s planning director for the rail line.

The Met Council has agreed to initiate eminent domain proceedings, if needed, to acquire the 31,362.2-square-foot surface-parking area adjacent to the one-time Bremer Bank building. Nolan does not own that property.

The council filed condemnation papers July 8 in Ramsey County District Court against the owners of the former distribution facility for Diamond Products, Furhmann said.

The Met Council plans to retrofit the 180,000-square-foot former distribution center for a maintenance facility for the rail line.

During an Oct. 8 court hearing the Met Council expects to be granted title and possession of the 180,000-square-foot facility, enabling workers to begin working on the retrofit. Furhmann said he expects the condemnation proceedings to continue into next year.

The sale of the former Bremer Bank building should close in November, allowing workers to remove asbestos from the interior of the older building, Furhmann said. Then workers will be able to demolish the building in March or April.

If all that follows as expected, construction of the rail station at Fourth and Cedar streets would being in April.

Furhmann said the demolition next spring would include disconnecting the half-block of the downtown St. Paul skyway system that runs through the doomed Bremer building and attaches to the adjacent University Club Building.

“Our commitment is to have the skyway re-established in November of 2011,” Furhmann said.

Nolan and a partner bought the 52,563-square-foot building and land in 1994 for $800,000 and recruited Princeton Bank to occupy the space. Bremer Bank eventually bought out Princeton Bank.

In the mid-2000s, Nolan was trying to sell the building for $4.2 million, but found no takers. Bremer Bank vacated the building in spring 2006, and Nolan decided to mothball the property. Remaining tenants left in fall 2007.

In May, the Met Council made an offer to Nolan and his partner to buy the building and land, but they didn’t accept the offer.

Nolan said he is glad the process is over. The rail line will be “great for the city, for both cities, an important port of a total metro-area system,” he said. “There are specific properties being hurt, but overall I think it’ll be a great benefit for the metro area.”

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