Deal for Oak Park Mall development canceled

Austin's plans to redevelop the struggling Oak Park Mall are off.

Last week, the Austin Port Authority terminated a purchase agreement for the property, halting the city's deal to buy the mall and raze half of it so a huge Hy-Vee grocery store could move in.

That agreement, announced in October, included contingencies, including amending lease and occupancy agreements with some of the mall's remaining tenants, said Craig Byram, city attorney. The deadline for getting those changes was Feb. 13, and the mall's owners declined to give an extension, he said.

If the port authority hadn't canceled the purchase, it risked "essentially inherit[ing] the mall in its present condition without the legal right to redevelop it," Byram said.

The Hormel Foundation had granted the city $3.2 million to buy the property — with the idea that Hy-Vee would then purchase the site, build its store and donate the bare land back to the city.

The city has not abandoned that plan to rethink the property and have Hy-Vee build a 60,000- to 90,000-square-foot store there. But "the ultimate fate of this project is simply in the hands of the mall," Byram said.



Top exec of Grandma's Marathon is retiring

Grandma's Marathon is looking for its third-ever executive director.

Jon Carlson announced his retirement after overseeing the nonprofit organization since 2013. The previous executive director, Scott Keenan, helped start the race and was in the job for 37 years.

Carlson, 61, will continue in his role through September. The organization hopes to have an incoming executive director hired before the annual marathon and half-marathon, which is on June 20 this year.

"The hope is to get a new person on board by the end of May," Carlson said. The new executive can "observe and see how Grandma's Marathon operates … so we have a nice transition."

Pam Louwagie @pamlouwagie


North Shore railroad starts conductor classes

Thirty-five volunteers showed up this week for conductor training at the North Shore Scenic Railroad as the historic rail line prepares for another summer ferrying tourists along Lake Superior. The conductor class includes people with train experience and others who want to help keep alive the railroad that started in 1995 using tracks once owned by the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway.

The longest route runs 26 miles from Duluth to Two Harbors. Some 70,000 people rode an NSSR train last summer, said operations manager Max Medlin. The first train departs for the summer season on May 2, with trips running through December.

Matt McKinney @_mattmckinney