After five years as a community gathering spot and fixture of Faribault’s Downtown Historic District, May 30 will be the Bluebird Cakery’s final day of operation. In a statement published on Facebook, owner Kelsy Willison expressed deep disappointment and thanked the bakery’s staff and loyal customer base.
“This announcement brings me a tremendous amount of heartache,” she said. “I love the business that we have built together.”
Willison said that ultimately, the decision had to be made because the pandemic had eviscerated its business. In addition to its everyday clientele, the Cakery often catered for weddings or other large group events, which are now postponed indefinitely.
"Our hearts ache for (Kelsy) and the Bluebird crew," said Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Nort Johnson. "They’ve been a great fixture in downtown for the last few years and they will be missed."
Bluebird isn’t the first downtown eatery to close as a result of the pandemic. Earlier this month, its former neighbor the Cheese Cave announced it would close permanently after more than a decade in business. The downtown eatery and retail shop served as an outlet for The Caves of Faribault and Swiss Valley Farms, serving a wide variety of cheeses, some produced just down the road. The Caves of Faribault continues to operate.
Even before the pandemic, vacant storefronts dotted the city’s downtown historic district. According to the city's Downtown Master Plan approved last year, one in five downtown buildings are either vacant or have been “converted to unsupportive use.” Still, years of strong economic growth nationally and regionally clearly benefited downtown Faribault, helping it to add small businesses to its storefronts. Continued downtown growth is at the heart of the city’s vision for its future.
With the economy in sudden turmoil, any vision for a vibrant downtown that includes strong small businesses, is suddenly at risk.
So far, the Economic Development Authority hasn’t put together any special program to help businesses through the pandemic. But that’s not to say the EDA isn’t doing anything to boost downtown businesses. At its Thursday morning meeting, the board again approved two programs that have given downtown business a significant boost over the last several years.
Under the vision laid out in the city's Downtown Master Plan, industrial/retail facilities would be replaced with housing and amenities. In order to accommodate new residents, the city is focused on increasing walkability as well as adding bicycle routes, parks and green spaces.
Sensitive, yet encouraging
The first, the Downtown Commercial Rehabilitation & Exterior Improvement Program, was launched in 2016 as a joint effort with the City Council. It’s designed to help downtown building owners keep up with building maintenance by covering a part of the cost.
Under the program, loans are awarded on a first come, first served basis, with a maximum award of $15,000. They are forgiven after five years unless the building is sold within that time span, in which case they must be repaid entirely. Eligible projects included building and facade improvements as well as interior improvements related to HVAC systems, sprinkler systems and/or elevator installations. Reimbursement rates vary depending on the type of project.
Since its inception, the program has provided $680,000 in assistance, helping business owners to invest $1.2 million in downtown. The EDA earmarked $200,000 for the program in its 2020 budget, and $60,000 in unused funds from last year remain available.
Both Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen and Economic Development Coordinator Samantha Markman told the EDA they’ve gotten inquires recently from businesses interested in utilizing the program.
Numerous local businesses have already taken advantage of the hiatus in business to tackle important and overdue maintenance projects. However, other store owners and businesses lack the resources to make that happen.
“We might not see a lot of building owners investing in projects now if they don’t have tenants,” Kuennen said. “We want to be sensitive, yet encourage investment.”
The EDA also approved $50,000 in funding for a 2020 Micro Grant Program. The 2020 program is designed to build off of its success in 2019, with half of the funding earmarked for businesses in the downtown district. Implemented in coordination with Faribault Main Street, the Micro Grant Program provides businesses with 50 or fewer employees with grants ranging from $500 to $5,000. An additional $10,000 has been budgeted to market and run the program.
Micro grants are designed to encourage entrepreneurial spirit by helping small business owners fund innovative projects. The application process is competitive, with businesses asked to make a case for their project.
Once they’ve received the grant, businesses have one year to bring a final project to fruition. They are required to demonstrate at least a 50% cash match for the project, though they’re also encouraged to seek out resources from other agencies.
Still, those two programs weren’t enough for everyone on the EDA. Board member Matt Drevlow, who owns the building that housed both Bluebird and the Cheese Cave, urged the EDA to take special action to help at risk downtown businesses.
“I think we need to get something done … or there’s not going to be a whole lot left of downtown soon,” Drevlow said.
Markman said that while staff have explored the possibility, they are waiting to see just how much money the city will receive for small business assistance from the federal CARES Act. She said those resources could dwarf what the EDA could put together on its own.
That funding will be available for the city to utilize as soon as it’s allocated by the state government. City Administrator Tim Murray said that he’s spoken with Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, who told him that the legislature intended to allocate the funding.
However, with the DFL-controlled House and Republican-led Senate were unable to strike an agreement, and legislators ended their regular session Monday without allocating funds. Now, they are likely to be allocated by Gov. Tim Walz via executive order.
Faribault’s Heritage Preservation Commission has given two thumbs up to developer Jason Palmby’s plans to transform Johnston Hall into a chemical treatment facility, devoting its entire yearly budget to help with the project.
Built in 1888 for $50,000, Johnston Hall is now all that remains of what was once the Seabury Divinity School incorporated by Henry Benjamin Whipple, the state’s first Episcopal Bishop. Last used for office space, it’s been vacant since 2012.
With a bell tower that has become almost iconic, Johnston Hall is one of numerous historical landmarks located outside of the Downtown Historic District. The HPC has aggressively defended such buildings, making itself one of the more controversial city boards as of late.
The board has the power to issue or deny certificates of appropriateness for proposals to alter historic buildings, although the City Council can override its decision. The board is less well known for making sizable investments in projects. With a yearly budget of just $5,000, the HPC is likely one of the city’s less well funded boards. Traditionally, a portion of the HPC’s funds are used to help defray the costs of attending the Statewide Historical Preservation Conference held every September.
With the conference a question mark due to COVID-19, it’s possible that the HPC could have more flexibility in its funding this year. Still, some members expressed concerns that the HPC could be overextending itself by investing all of its money in the project.
In his letter to Community Development Coordinator Kim Clausen, Palmby said that he was requesting the $5,000 to help conduct an extensive architectural review focused on the building’s roofline, foundation and exterior masonry
Palmby has worked to analyze the needs of the building and the viability of a potential project at Johnston Hall since January 2019. He’s met with contractors and architects as well as the State Historic Preservation Office, and worked to identify funding sources.
The plan submitted by Palmby to the City Council has an estimated price tag of $4 million. To help facilitate the project, Allina Health/District One Hospital, which owns the building, has agreed to sell Palmby the building for $1 and grant him a 60-year zero cost lease agreement for the land.
Palmby told the HPC that based on the work he’s done so far, it’s abundantly clear that the building has suffered from decades of “deferred maintenance.” It’s been used for a wide variety of uses over the years, and undergone several remodels in the process. Its most recent extensive remodel took place in 1987. However, that remodel did not take place in close consultation with State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), and that has made this restoration project all the more challenging.
Even without that, the Twin Cities-based developer says that restoring and renovating historic buildings is always a challenge. He would certainly know, as he’s developed historic buildings in the Twin Cities for similar use.
“Historic buildings are like an onion,” he said. “Peel back one layer and you find another set of challenges.”
Palmby said that due to the deferred maintenance, extensive remodeling work over the years, and the unique needs of the new facility, restoring the interior of the building to historic standards is not plausible. However, he reiterated his strong commitment to restoring the building’s exterior to its former glory. That job won’t be easy, but it’s certainly necessary given that the building has deteriorated so much as to become a safety hazard.
Palmby pledged to pay special care to what he says is the most deteriorated yet iconic part of the structure — the stately bell tower. Over the years, he says that “stopgap” fixes have neglected the bell tower, leaving it in critical condition.
While a bit nervous about the funding, HPC members were won over by Palmby’s commitment to restoring and maintaining one of the city’s most historic yet troubled structures, which had previously come within months of potential demolition.
“To have this proposal in front of us is a real gift,” said Commission member Karl Vohs.
The project is on schedule to be completed sometime in 2021. Once complete, the locally owned and operated facility will offer residential chemical health treatment for men with outpatient services for women, complete with an on-site cafeteria, meeting and therapy rooms, and a canine training/therapy program.
Anne Antletz, nee Anne Lee Jones, was a woman ahead of her time when she edited the Society page for Faribault Daily News from 1962-68.
In her column titled “For What it’s Worth,” she predicted space travel would become a realistic endeavor before the first launch to the moon. She wrote about joining the Shrine Circus at age 17, the disastrous but humorous side effects of having children involved in science fair and the experience of raising seven children. She won awards for women’s journalism as well as photography during her newspaper career.
At age 93, Antletz died of natural causes May 9 in San Pedro, California. Although she didn’t share her experiences in a newspaper column after leaving the Faribault Daily News in 1968, her life took quite a few turns in the past 52 years.
Antletz’s son Charlie said he has vague memories of his mom working for Faribault Daily News, when he was 11 to 17 years old. He remembers her eating cereal in the morning and being gone all day long.
As the story goes, Antletz left the Daily News because she learned one of her employees, who she was asked to train in, was paid more than her. The reason, she learned, was because he had a family to support.
“She was kind of a women’s activist before her time,” said Ann Jones, Charlie’s wife and Antletz’s daughter-in-law.
Ironically and tragically, Antletz became the sole supporter of her family for a while after leaving the Faribault Daily News. Her first husband, Thomas Jones, died in 1969. Antletz then earned a certificate in American Sign Language and became a counselor for the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. She later moved her family to Glendale, Arizona, and became a registered nurse.
While living in Arizona, she reconnected with her old friend Robert Antletz and they later married. Originally from Minneapolis, he worked as an aerospace engineer and was instrumental in space shuttle flights. Antletz acquired four stepchildren from her second husband, so together they had 11 children. She later adopted one of her grandchildren as well, and she worked as a psychiatric nurse in San Pedro, California, until she retired.
Throughout her career shifts and relocation from Minnesota to Arizona to California, Antletz continued to write pleasure and took photos constantly. Ann Jones said her mother-in-law has about 50 journals packed into a plastic bin and hundreds of photo albums. The family used to joke that Antletz was the one keeping the Walgreens’ film department in business as she would buy multiple prints of her photos and send them to each of her adult children.
Antletz used her writing talents in a unique way that made anyone she met feel important. For a number of years, she wrote personal greeting card messages to anyone she knew, as long as she could remember their birthdays. Apart from a personal note, the cards often included a check, photographs and jokes she found on the internet.
“Everyone she ever met got on her birthday list,” said Ann. “ … She’d have a box full of greeting cards, and she’d spend a couple hours a day getting these cards out. She would send them to our friends, our high school friends, just anybody.”
Charlie said his mom kept in touch with his dad’s family in Faribault, including the late Robert “Bob” Jones, who worked as a deputy in Faribault for many years, and the late Richard Jones, who worked as a plumber. These were Charlie’s uncles.
“She pretty much stayed connected to everyone she ever met,” said Charlie.
Her 16 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren knew her as “Granny Annie,” said Ann, and she made Christmastime and other holidays special in a way her children have replicated.
“She was just fun,” said Ann. “‘Full of life,’ would be a good way to describe her.”
After retiring, Antletz traveled as a Road Scholar (nee Elderhostel), an educational travel program for adults. She also did volunteer work and participated in a group called Clutterers Anonymous. According to Charlie, his mother was well aware that she had a hoarding problem — he recalls stacks of newspapers piling high on her dining room table years ago. But his mom was also generous — she often gave to charities like the American Red Cross and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
“She was very caring,” said Charlie. “… She was very loving, really a beautiful lady.”