Preserving 3M’s sprawling Washington County corporate retreat as parkland was an idea that caught fire in July, but interest quickly faded after a review of the proposal revealed too many obstacles.
“It is our opinion that there isn’t strong enough support to move this forward, at least at this time,” Bob McGillivray of the Trust for Public Land (TPL) told the five Washington County commissioners last week. “We’re all about bringing land and people together, and if that connection isn’t there, it won’t work.”
The 3M Co. announced in May that it would seek a buyer for 50-year-old Tartan Park, which will close as a corporate retreat in December. The announcement came a year after 3M opened amenities to the public on the 483-acre site to attract new revenue.
Tartan’s selling price has been advertised at $10 million, said 3M spokeswoman Lori Anderson. “We’re continuing to have discussions with other interested parties,” she said, declining to disclose details.
The Maplewood corporation asked the TPL to consider uses for the property, but under a tight deadline, and in July the TPL appealed for help from Washington County. Commissioners authorized two months of research on how to save Tartan Park’s natural areas from development. In the end, funding challenges and questions surrounding the fate of Tartan’s three 9-hole golf courses scuttled county interest in a possible purchase.
McGillivray, the TPL’s senior project manager in Minnesota, said he learned that many people want to keep the golf courses intact. The Lake Elmo City Council, in fact, passed a resolution on Sept. 15 stating that “the city wishes to preserve the golf course in some fashion and sees a continuation of such in the best interest of the citizens of Lake Elmo.”
The council also said it’s “committed to protection of open space” in Tartan Park and values “active” recreation areas there and wants to protect them from development. Council members said they are open to talking about “future ownership and land use issues” with 3M.
“There is this unfortunate timeline that the city was responding to and acting upon,” Mayor Mike Pearson said last week, referring to 3M’s request for a decision soon about a possible conservation purchase. “There really hasn’t been discussion on what will be there, what should be there.”
Washington County’s interest in Tartan ends now unless it’s determined that the park’s natural features, which include woods, meadows and Horseshoe Lake, will be sold separately, said Commissioner Gary Kriesel, who chairs the board.
The Tartan property sits next to the Lake Elmo Regional Park Reserve, Washington County’s most popular park. County officials had considered linking at least a portion of Tartan to the 2,000-acre county park, but funding challenges contributed to the decision to suspend interest.
Kriesel said the county would have to rely on its Land and Water Legacy program, which needed “leveraged” money to help acquire the property.
McGillivray said he couldn’t find enough financial support because of the sports amenities sprinkled throughout the property. Those amenities might be bettered managed by the city of Lake Elmo or private businesses, commissioners have said.
Tartan Park was valued in the county’s 2015 assessment at $5.186 million, said Kevin Corbid, the county’s deputy administrator. The company, based in Maplewood, paid $167,663 in property taxes for Tartan Park this year, of which $40,000 to $50,000 went to the city of Lake Elmo, he said.
Susan Schmidt, the TPL’s state director, and McGillivray told county commissioners this summer that county ownership “would be the best protection” for Tartan Park. If Washington County chooses not to act, they wrote, “the company will move forward with its second option, which is selling Tartan Park for development.”
The park’s rolling topography is similar to that in the county park, they wrote, with pine and oak forests, wetlands and lakes, and an outlet to Lake Elmo, the park reserve’s largest lake.
“It does have a very high conservation value,” Schmidt wrote of Tartan. “We view this as a great opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”