Tax-forfeited grain elevator weighs on Hennepin County

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 29, 2014 - 1:37 PM

Hennepin Co. can’t seem to get rid of an unused, hulking grain elevator forfeited to the state in 2013.

Mark Chapin, Hennepin County’s director of taxpayer services, county auditor and county treasurer, and administrative manager Jeff Strand posed for a picture next to the giant abandoned grain elevators on Hiawatha that the city just got back in tax forfeiture.

Photo: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER,

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With about 800 tax-forfeited properties, Hennepin County tries to unload its vacant lots, boarded-up houses and other orphaned properties at public auctions once or twice a year.

But the old grain elevator? Mark Chapin doesn’t know how he’ll get rid of it.

The hulking concrete structure in Minneapolis is a white elephant for Chapin, Hennepin County’s auditor and treasurer. The silos tower over Hiawatha Avenue, all ready for 1.4 million bushels of grain that aren’t coming.

The elevator became the county’s problem after its most recent owner, J & F Acquisitions LLC, failed to pay property taxes and the piece of Minnesota history forfeited to the state in August 2013, Chapin said.

While properties are legally forfeited to the state, the counties have to manage them.

The city of Minneapolis has first dibs on tax-forfeited properties within its borders for redevelopment, but took a pass on the grain elevator.

“What do you do with elevators, other than a climbing wall?” Chapin said.

Built around 1930, the elevator hearkens to the area’s glory days of grain milling. CHS Inc., the Inver Grove Heights-based agricultural cooperative, operated it until the mid-1990s when it decided it was no longer practical for modern grain handling and sold it to J & F Acquisitions LLC. J & F went under with Minneapolis developer Robert A. Fransen, who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2011. Among Fransen’s businesses were Longfellow Station I and Capital Growth Real Estate, which unsuccessfully tried to develop the nearby Longfellow Station apartments on Hiawatha.

An enormous fading mural on the side, commissioned in 1990, depicts the night sky and historic scenes of a paddleboat and streetcar.

Selling or repurposing a grain elevator is tough enough but this comes with added challenges. CHS sold easements to two cellphone companies with cellphone towers on the complex.

According to Chapin, the easements are permanent and have to be honored, he said. One of the companies wanted access as recently as the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Then there’s the crumbling roof. Pieces of the metal edging around the top of the silos are falling off and the county doesn’t want debris hitting people walking down the sidewalk or the house next door. So the county is spending $10,000 to hammer down the edges and make other repairs.

Demolishing the elevator would probably cost more than $2 million, Chapin figures. Given that, the county will probably send out requests for proposals to see if anyone has a creative solution. He’s mulling selling it for $1 through the county’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

“We want to get that one on the tax rolls,” Chapin said.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683



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