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Empty building may have buyer from St. Croix Co. agency

The County Market building in southern New Richmond, which has been sitting empty since Dec. 31, 2006, may finally have a new purpose.

The Administration Committee for the St. Croix County Board voted Monday to recommend that the Health and Human Services offices be moved to the former grocery store location. The purchase price for the building, if approved, would be $1.28 million. The full county board will consider the matter at its Aug. 6 meeting.

The Health and Human Services department is currently housed in the county-owned facility on the northwestern edge of New Richmond. The county board voted in 2010 to vacate the current building, due to high maintenance needs and growing operational costs. In January of this year, the board voted to authorize County Administrator Patrick Thompson to relocate the HHS employees to leased space.

But after bids were gathered for leased space, only one official proposal was received. The owner of the County Market building, Gary Cooper, offered to lease the structure after significant renovations were completed.

But, according to County Board Chairman Daryl Standafer, the price of leasing the space ended up being too high. He said it became obvious that buying the building was a much better option.

"The cost to lease over five years far exceeded the opportunity to own the facility and do our own renovations," Standafer said. "We have explored a number of options. This alternative - purchase of an existing well located building with substantial parking - is the most cost effective route."

Once the renovations are completed, Health and Human Services can be moved from an obsolete facility to a safe and efficient facility, Standafer said.

"We will own the asset, and should needs change over the next five to 10 years, its location would make it very saleable if circumstances change," he added.

To buy the building, Standafer said the county would use the proceeds from the sale of the former county farm land.

Fred Horne, mayor of New Richmond and county board supervisor, was thrilled with the committee's recommendation. City officials have been hoping that the county jobs would remain in the community, and that the services provided by the Health and Human Services department would remain centrally located to the county's population.

"I think this is huge for the City of New Richmond," Horne said. "And I think it's a very smart move for the county as well."

Horne said preliminary estimates to build a new facility in Hudson to house the HHS department came in around $5 million. County taxpayers will save huge money with a remodeled County Market complex, he said.

"It's the smart thing to do," he said.

As an added bonus, Horne said the new location will be highly visible along Highway 65. One downside to the current HHS building is its hidden location.

New Richmond City Administrator applauded the building's owner, Gary Cooper, Mark Johnson with Derrick Cos. and Beth Thompson, the city's community development director, for their hard work on coming to an agreement and plan for the building.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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