A building the state of Minnesota bought in 2020 as a possible COVID-19 morgue — but was never used to store bodies — has been sold to a trucking company that employs veterans and inner-city residents, the St. Paul Port Authority announced Thursday.

Soldier Trucking's purchase of the former Bix Produce Co. facility near downtown St. Paul needs to be approved by the Port Authority board. But officials said the trucking company's move will mean 140 jobs for St. Paul.

The company — which is based in St. Paul with offices in Mendota Heights — plans to relocate 20 administrative jobs from Mendota Heights, retain 52 positions in St. Paul and add 60-70 new positions over the next 18 to 24 months, Chief Operating Officer Dean Zuleger said.

Officials did not divulge the purchase price, saying it isn't public information until next week when it is included in the board's public meeting notice, according to Port Authority spokesperson Andrea Novak. The board is scheduled to vote on the deal Jan. 25.

The state bought the former Bix Produce Co. cold storage facility for $5.5 million in May 2020 to reserve as a backup morgue as COVID death numbers were rising. Community members and local elected officials raised concerns about the state's plan, saying it would be a blow to the often-overlooked North End neighborhood.

But by late 2021, the state put the building back on the market and the Port Authority bought it for $5.65 million. The goal was to find a buyer that would create jobs in a neighborhood that sorely needs them, rather than just selling to the highest bidder, Port officials said.

Soldier Trucking was selected for that reason, said Port Authority President Lee Krueger.

"We couldn't be more pleased with the outcome. We did what we set out to do — protect jobs," Krueger said in a statement. "If we would have sold to the highest bidder, I have no doubt the job count would have been substantially lower."

Soldier Trucking is a veteran-owned transportation company that focuses on putting people from diverse backgrounds — including disabled vets — to work, Zuleger said. Its core business is hauling bread for customers such as Baldinger Bakery, Chick-fil-A and Costco. It also delivers auto parts to John Deere and provides "final mile" delivery for Amazon in the central neighborhoods of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Many employees at Soldier live in the central Twin Cities and rely on public transportation to get to work. Employees represent 19 ethnic communities, Zuleger said.

If the former Bix building hadn't come on the market, he said, the company would have moved its operations to Woodbury.

"We were looking for a site that kind of consolidated all of our operations," he said. "We'll be a great neighbor in that we are going to do business with the folks who are all around us."