After providing $500,000 in grants to local businesses, Le Sueur County is adding to its relief programming through grants to nonprofit organizations.
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, the Le Sueur County Commissioners approved a $50,000 fund to provide emergency grants of up to $10,000 to charitable and veterans organizations within the county. Dollars for the relief program come from the CARES Act. $3.9 million in CARES dollars was sent to the county and the board has until Dec. 1 to spend it before it goes back to the federal government.
There are nearly 30 types of nonprofits, but Le Sueur County has decided to limit its focus to just three: 501©(3) charitable organizations, 501©(19) veterans organizations and 501©(23) veterans organizations.
“… we’re narrowing this only to charitable organizations and veterans organizations will be eligible to apply,” said Barbara Droher-Kline, who has been in charge of coordinating County CARES Act projects.
Other types of nonprofits, such as credit unions, trade organizations and social clubs will not be able to receive county aid. Religious organizations, political and partisan organizations, academic organizations, fundraisers, and endowment are also ineligible alongside non-profits that receive a passive income from investments, real estate and business transactions and lobbying.
Charitable and veterans organizations are only eligible if they have been operating in Le Sueur County for longer than six months and are intending to continue operations. The county requires organizations be licensed, in good standing and that they can demonstrate a significant loss of revenue since March 15.
Money paid out to organizations may be used for payroll, rent, mortgages, utilities, and payments to suppliers. Non-profits that have received assistance from the federal government in the form of Small Business Administration loans, Paycheck Protection Program loans and Economic Industry Disaster loans can still apply so long as the organization can demonstrate losses that were not covered by these programs.
To demonstrate losses, organizations must submit a 2019 tax return with their application and documentation that can serve as evidence of revenue loss. An organization that has not completed a 2019 tax return may still apply if they have an alternative way to document their revenues. Evidence of federal tax operating status prior to March 1 is also being required by the county along with any other additional documentation deemed necessary by the fund manager.
Applications will be open for just a five-day period between Oct. 19 and Oct. 23. Organizations will be notified if their grant has been accepted on Nov. 6. If requests exceed the $50,000 available, then the fund administrator will select applicants based on a lottery system.
It’s the end of an era for the Valley Green Square Mall and the beginning of a new legacy.
The Valley Green Square Mall has been a staple of Le Sueur for more than 40 years, but under new ownership, the mall is being redeveloped with a new layout, a new name, and room for the reconstruction of Main Street.
On Oct. 6, Coldwell Banker Commercial Fisher Group welcomed city officials and residents to the groundbreaking of Valley Green Square Mall and the construction of the new Tiller and Main.
“Our development team knows that no renovation is complete without fresh branding, so we are going to be renaming the building” said Cate DeBates, Director of Business Development with CBC Fisher. “ It was important to the owners that the new brand reflect the profit and prosperity this is bringing to Main Street and they also wanted to stay true to Le Sueur’s deep agricultural history. Just like a farmer tills up the earth, we we want to break ground to build innovation and opportunity for the citizens and businesses here.”
Meet Tiller + Main
To begin the start of redevelopment, the development team and city officials, including Community Development Director Samantha DiMaggio and Mayor Gregory Hagg, swung sledgehammers at a wall inside the mall to reveal the new logo of soon-to-be Tiller and Main.
Tiller and Main will continue to serve the city of Le Sueur as a business center, but with the addition of an apartment complex and a new layout. The west side of the mall is being demolished to create space for Main Street to be reconnected. Since Valley Green Square Mall was constructed in the 1970s, its borders have split the northern and southern halves of the road.
With Main Street reconnected, DeBates said that it would give the mall opportunity to host new storefronts facing the west, which could include retailers and offices on the main level. Existing businesses on the second floor will be relocated to the main floor to make room for 16 apartment spaces.
The apartments will consist of six studio apartments at 530 square feet for $750 a month, five 650-square-foot one-bedroom units at $900 a month and five 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom apartments at $1,100 a month. The spaces are planned to debut in 2021 with washers and dryers in each unit and stainless steel appliances.
“We hope to bring a livability to the building,” said DeBates. “Which is really nice, because it really creates that watchdog community feel. The 24/7 life on-site.”
DeBates said that the development team hopes to work with current tenants, as they are relocated in the building. New and existing tenants will also have some input on the new facade, which will face Main Street. Tiller and Main will have glass storefronts lining the road, and the stores will be able to add their own branding to the exterior.
“It’s going to be the tenants and whoever wants to be in the building will help drive that because they want to be in the exterior,” said DeBates. “It will definitely have that downtown Le Sueur vibe, but with a modern twist to it.”
The developers hope to have the mall ready to open by spring or summer of next year, but DeBates said that it was too early to give an end date.
Years in the making
The groundbreaking was welcomed with high spirits by the city of Le Sueur, which has spent nearly five years trying to connect Main Street and revitalize the mall. Connecting Le Sueur’s downtown area was being explored under the administration of the previous Mayor Bob Broeder and Economic Development Director Ed Tschida back in 2016.
One major factor has held Le Sueur back from pursuing this project over the years: cost. With upwards of $10 million needed to connect Main Street, the city was in need of public funds to make the proposal a reality.
That lack of funding put a stop to the city’s hopes for Main Street in 2019. Last year, the city had talked with the Minnesota Department of Transportation about opening Main Street as a three-way stop, but the money simply wasn’t there. A grant application the city sent to the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) was rejected.
Further complicating those efforts was a mall that had fallen on tough times. Several tenant businesses had been forced to close or vacate from the mall in years prior, leaving Valley Greenl in dire straits and $1.2 million in mortgages the owners were struggling to pay off.
Over the years, the city had discussed numerous possibilities for the mall, whether it be updating the facade, a partial demolition to reconstruct Main Street, or demolishing and replacing the mall in it’s entirety.
In May 2020, the city’s efforts over the years finally paid off. Community Development Director Samantha DiMaggio negotiated a successful deal with Building Good Downtowns LLC, and the mall owners to sell and revitalize the mall and open Main Street. With a successful DEED grant of $850,000, all the cards were now in place to make this reconstruction a reality.
“I’m just so grateful for Mike Brennan and Samantha DiMaggio,” said Mayor Hagg. Brennan is the president of Mankato development firm Brennan Construction and Properties . He has advised Le Sueur on the mall redevelopment over the years, and his firm is working construction on the building. “Sam and Mike were able to get together and put all of this together.”
Growing Le Sueur
At the heart of efforts to redevelop the mall and reopen Main Street has been a desire to turn Le Sueur’s downtown area into a center of growth. With this redevelopment project and city efforts to repair roads, like the old Hwy. 112 and Ferry and Commerce streets, Mayor Hagg believes the city is well on the path to revitalization.
“I am very, very happy,” said Mayor Hagg at the demolition. “I can remember when this was an open street, and back in those days, you had Hotel Wilke, the bakery and so many other places and even housing … I think that’s an indicator for what the future is going to look like for the city of Le Sueur.”
Four new wireless towers to improve high speed internet are under construction in Le Sueur County.
On Tuesday Oct. 6, the Le Sueur County Board of Commissioners spent $550,000 to establish wireless towers in Cleveland, Cordova, Montgomery and Waterville with federal money from the CARES Act. A proposal to set up a fifth tower to bring high speed internet to Kasota and the St. Peter area was tabled by the county to see if Nicollet County would have interest in partially funding the project; Kasota is in Le Sueur County, while St. Peter is in Nicollet County.
The new slate of wireless towers are arriving at a fast pace since the county may only use CARES dollars until Dec. 1. After the deadline all the remaining funds of the $3.9 million available to the county will be sent back to the federal government.
The projects the county approves must also be completed by the end of the year to be eligible for CARES funding. With these limitations in mind, Le Sueur County has focused much of its broadband expansion plans on upgrading existing wireless infrastructure to deliver higher speeds to surrounding areas.
Le Sueur County contracted Netwave Communications to set up these wireless towers. The firm was also contracted to set up towers in Derrynane Township, Tyrone Township and Le Center in prior projects.
The Cleveland tower comes at a cost of $116,000 to the county and will provide 100 mb speeds to the city and surrounding under-served areas within approximately five miles. A $121,000 tower will be built to the north of the city of Cordova with most of the township in range.
A third tower at $159,000 will be built to the south of Montgomery, with coverage encompassing the city and much of the township. The county is also looking to provide high speed internet in the Montgomery area by applying for a Border to Border Grant from the state of Minnesota with MetroNet.
While there would be overlap if approved, Barbara Droher-Kline, who heads the county’s broadband efforts, said that it was worthwhile, because the tower could be installed faster and could reach areas that a fiber network may not.
“You can be one mile from where the fiber ends and not get anything,” said Droher-Kline. “So I think we need the both and right now, just because of the limits running and the costs of running out fiber. You hate to live a mile away not having anything.”
Adding the tower also would not interfere with the county’s eligibility to receive a state grant, said Droher-Kline. What could set the county back is the fact that it was approved for a Border to Border grant with Bevcomm earlier this year. Droher-Kline said that since the state likes to spread grant dollars around to promote equity, that would be a bigger obstacle.
The final tower approved by the county is located just north of the city of Waterville. The $159,000 tower would include the city and surrounding areas in its coverage, including the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown School District.
The costs of these towers to the county vary primarily due to pass-through costs, said Steve Herman with Netwave Broadband, which have a greater impact since the county is working on a limited timeframe.
“These are pass-through installation costs for what it actually takes to do it and the cost reduction is pretty considerable in Cleveland vs. [Cordova],” said Herman. “We’re seeing some inflated construction costs from our vendor just due to timing to get everything set up in the timelines we have.”
The wireless towers all passed with unanimous approval by the board of commissioners, but several commissioners balked at a final proposal to set up a wireless tower in St. Peter to provide coverage to the city and the city of Kasota. Unlike the other towers, this would require Netwave to lay some connecting fiber, bringing up the cost to $225,000. The price, plus the fact that the tower was located in Nicollet County led commissioners to oppose setting up the tower without a secondary funding source from Nicollet County or another partner.
“The tower isn’t even in our county; it’s in Nicollet County,” said Commissioner John King. “Though I appreciate the time sensitive nature of this, I personally wouldn’t want to move forward with this proposal without knowing that we have partners to help.”
“It’s a lot of money to supply service to part of somebody else’s county,” added Commissioner James O’Keefe.
Herman, however, recommended that the county approve the project. He said that it was common for towers on county borders to service multiple counties. Le Sueur County has benefitted from other county projects without paying into them, noted Droher-Kline. Scott County is currently setting up towers in Union Hill in New Prague which will provide service to areas of Le Sueur County, but the county did not share in the costs.
“My recommendation would be to move forward, so we can get moving on stuff,” said Herman. “If Barb can set up a conversation with Nicollet County it’s not a big ask to split the tower expense there … Timing is so tight I would hate to delay two weeks.”
Board Chair Steve Rohlfing ultimately chose to table the proposal until the next commissioners meeting in two weeks. In that time, the county plans to reach out to Nicollet County to see if the entities can come to a cost-sharing agreement.