Sometimes, words just don’t suffice.

That’s how many feel when they first see photos of the Kirkbride Facility in Fergus Falls (above). Named after the famous psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, this castle-like historic landmark was once a mental institution. It’s now vacant — and waiting for someone to step forward with a vision (and some financial savvy) for redevelopment.

Dan Peterson, a listing agent with Colliers International in the Twin Cities and a self-professed lover of old buildings, is marketing the Victorian-era facilities for the city of Fergus Falls, which owns the property. All told, the Kirkbride spans 500,000 square feet.

The buildings could be repurposed as an educational or health care facility, or housing, or home to green- or clean-tech businesses, he says, noting the 34-acre site is flexible enough to incorporate modern facilities while retaining the historic character. He added that “millions of dollars” in various state and federal incentives are available for such a project.

Dr. Kirkbride was a 19th-century physician and mental asylum superintendent who authored a book on hospital design, arguing that it could aid in the recuperation and maintenance of mental health. Many of these Kirkbride-influenced buildings were known for their “bat wing” floorplan and often-lavish architecture, which is certainly the case with the Fergus Falls complex.

The Fergus Falls facility was built in 1888, and when it opened in 1906, it was the state’s third mental hospital. At its peak, there were some 2,000 patients. When it closed in 2005, it was known as the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, and the number of patients had dwindled to about 100.

In 2011, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota included the Kirkbride Facility on its annual list of endangered buildings. “Absent any tangible option for the facility, the alternative would be to demolish it unfortunately,” Peterson said. According to the Alliance, the Fergus Falls building remains one of a handful of intact Kirkbride structures in the Midwest, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Peterson is hopeful a developer or a consortium of interests will come forward to save the Fergus Falls Kirkbride.
His first reaction when he first toured the structure was, “Wow, this building is in really good condition.” His second reaction was, “Wow, there’s some real scale here.” And his third reaction was, “My goodness, if only the rest of the world could know about it.”

For more information (and photos) go here.

Janet Moore covers commercial real estate for the Star Tribune.


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