The current owners of the former Pillsbury Baptist Bible College feel confident that the campus won’t stay empty much longer.

Nearly four years after officials at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College announced the school was closing, the campus remains for sale. So when most college campuses open up later this month across the United States, Pillsbury’s doors will still be locked.

The campus is now owned outright by Community Resource Bank of Northfield. The bank lent money to Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in 2008, the same year the college closed its doors. The owners were unable to pay off the loans, which totaled $1.6 million, and the bank and the Pillsbury owners signed a Short Form Mortgage Foreclosure Agreement in July 2011.

On March 23, the Steele County Sheriff’s Office at a sheriff’s sale awarded the property to Community Resource Bank, which had $1,861,687.54 invested in the property through the loan to Pillsbury and accrued interest and fees. The sale was finalized on May 23.

Pierre Menard, chief lending officer for CRB, said there are several parties interested in purchasing Pillsbury and bank officials are hopeful the 17-acre will be purchased soon. When asked when he would like the property sold, he answered, “Yesterday.”

“We’re not in the business of holding properties,” he said, “but this is a complicated property for most people. Our hope is to find the right buyer for it, and we have multiple interested parties right now.”

The previous owners, Minnesota Baptist Association, used the real estate firm CB Richard Ellis to market and sell the property. The campus was listed at $3.9 million.

Menard called the campus a unique property and said the bank will do things differently than normal. Usually, the bank would enlist the help of a firm, but right now there is no exclusive agreement or listing price.

In March, Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz established a nine-man task force to either come up with ways to sell the Pillsbury property or offer advice to its new owners. The task force is headed by Steve Jessop, who is also chair of the city’s planning commission. Doug Belmore, Roy Collete, Jim Gunderson, Dave Hietala, Troy Klecker, Harold McGregor, Jerry Monson and Tom Sager are also on the commission. So far, the members have met on April 25 and July 10. Jessop said the meeting last month was to get everyone up to speed and not to discuss potential buyers.

“It was mostly procedural,” Jessop said. “We had three or four members of the commission down south for the winter, so we wanted to meet and get every caught up.”

Most of the previous interested parties have been educational institutions, and for a while last November, it looked like Pillsbury would be purchased by the Owatonna school district. Last fall’s bond referendum failed by only 11 votes.

The commission has not given up hope of the property being used for educating students. Jessop said they have reached out to the Minnesota Department of Education and leaders of MnSCU about possible schools that could be placed on the longtime college campus.

“I always hoped the (Owatonna school) district could use it,” Jessop said. “The ballots were close.”

Jessop added that while it would be nice to keep Pillsbury an education institution, it’s not a huge priority to everyone on the commission.

“What the property should be differs with each member of the commission, but it’s not our job to define what’s best for it. It’s our job to monitor the situation and help where we can.”

Jessop said he’s been very happy with the work Community Resource Bank has done to keep the buildings and grounds in good shape.

Menard said some potential buyers have asked about parceling the property, but currently the bank is looking at selling at 17-acres together.

Reach reporter Derek Sullivan at 444-2372, or follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan

Reach reporter Derek Sullivan at 444-2372, or follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan

People's Press education/politics/arts reporter