The St. Paul Port Authority is planning to buy the former Bix Produce Co. site in the city's North End neighborhood after the state took it over during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to use as an emergency morgue.

The state purchased the former cold storage facility for nearly $5.5 million last May as Minnesota braced for a surge in COVID-19 deaths that could strain morgues. North End neighbors worried about living so close to a facility that could hold 5,000 bodies.

Ultimately, the need never materialized, and the property was used to store pandemic-related personal protective equipment (PPE). After the facility sat empty for a time, the state accepted a $5.65 million purchase offer from the Port Authority.

The closing date is set for Nov. 30. The Port Authority will then determine job goals for the site and put it on the commercial real estate market, with the goal of securing a buyer or partner within a year who can deliver on state and local economic development goals, according to the Port Authority's memorandum marking the sale.

Using projects over the past 30 years as a guide, the Port Authority estimates "the facility could house 75-100 jobs with the potential for greater job density if the building can in fact be reused and re-tenanted as refrigerated space with a food preparation component," the memorandum said.