It’s hard to guess who would buy a blighted grain elevator on a lonely stretch of urban land, but Hennepin County wants to find out.
The county will try to auction off a small parcel that’s home to a giant silo and several smaller outbuildings next week. Officials set a minimum bid of $23,000.
Optimists see transit-oriented development potential for the plot, located near Hiawatha Avenue, just off the light-rail line. But some private developers worry that the cost to renovate or tear down the behemoth structure could dissuade buyers.
“The county is going to have to make as much lemonade out of this as they can, but’s a really tough assignment,” said Scott Tankenoff, managing partner of Minneapolis-based Hillcrest Development, which specializes in commercial renovation.
The site’s last owner was delinquent on taxes and forfeited the property to the state in August 2013. But it’s up to the county to manage it.
Maintaining an 85-year-old abandoned structure, that experienced years of heavy industrial use, comes with a fair share of baggage. Both demolition and renovation will be expensive, but Hennepin County is trying to get the property back on the market and back on the tax roll.
“It’s a unique parcel,” said Jan Duffie, supervisor for tax-forfeited land for Hennepin County. “We have had several inquiries from people who are actually interested.”
There’s water in the basement, crumbling materials, and the hazards — according to a report by the county — include tripping, falling, floor openings, falling objects, wet surfaces, atmospheric conditions like oxygen deficiency and poisonous gases, as well as general environmental concerns.
“There’s a lot to consider on these sites. And because they often bring environmental issues for heavy industrial use for a century, it is not easy,” Tankenoff said.
Mark Chapin, Hennepin County’s director of taxpayer services and county auditor, who released the public auction notice this month, estimated in July that it could cost about $2 million to tear down the elevator. And, Tankenoff said, that doesn’t likely include the cost of environmental remediation.
Old agricultural processing plants have enjoyed a resurgence in popular appeal. Across from downtown Minneapolis, crews are transforming the Pillsbury A Mill into artist lofts.
Developers assess old industrial sites using many factors when determining which are worth rehabilitating.
“Pillsbury is high-profile but is heavily, heavily subsidized. Otherwise you can’t do it. You have to have a primo location and financial help,” Tankenoff said. “The market has a marvelous way of sorting these properties out. It’s a calibration of how good is the location, how much is it worth, how much do you need to invest, do you need subsidy?”
The No. 1 factor: location.
Hillcrest Development owns nearly five acres along Hiawatha near the grain elevator. And while Tankenoff believes it’s a good location, he says it isn’t great.
“When I look at Hiawatha, I see a lot of structures and a lot of it is not relevant today,” he said. “And I think they are holding back a lot of what could happen there.”
A teardown price of $2 million doesn’t make economic sense, he said, and without a compelling historical argument he questions the value.
Certain properties, buildings or structures have historical significance from their architecture, engineering or for a key moment in time. “But I also think there are also just average silo structures out there that may not be as important,” Tankenoff said. “The question then is about the value to the community and if it’s worth maintaining. And that’s where this gets extremely subjective and extremely rickety.”