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Payton Beyer, right, is congratulated by Travis Hilstad after making a diving catch in centerfield to record the third out in the top of the second inning against Pine Island on Wednesday, July 8 at Dartts Park. Beyer is one of several current Owatonna High School students or 2020 graduates that will be playing alongside two of their coaches with the Huskies this summer as Hilstad and Brandon Wolf have been on the OHS staff since 2018. (Jon Weisbrod/People’s Press)

Development group redeveloping former hotel for offices, retail

It has been a number of years since the building sitting on the corner of Bridge and Oak has housed a business, but two prominent downtown developers have set out to change that.

Redline Development Group, comprised of Darrien Stadheim, of Stadheim Properties, and Scott Mohs, of Mohs Contracting, has redeveloped a number of buildings along the river downtown — most notably the popular Mineral Springs Brewery and Bellebrook Boutique — and 202 Bridge Street is among its latest ventures. Originally built more than 100 years ago as a hotel, Stadheim and Mohs plan to fully refurbish the structure and provide both retail and office space.

“We really wanted to keep it up because it’s a neat building, but it will need an extensive remodel,” said Stadheim. “There is an addition on the west end that we’re going to take down, but we’ll be keeping the original structure of 8,000-square-feet on two levels.”

According to Mohs, this particular project has been something they have been working on for a handful of years.

“We want to be a part of making Owatonna something better,” Mohs said. “It’s always nice to see existing buildings be renovated and brought back to life and be useful again, and this one has sat empty for a number of years.”

Stadheim said that the building was originally built in the 1800s for about $10,000 price tag, a figure the development group has already surpassed by more than 10 times. Prior to the acquisition, the second floor of the building housed residential apartments. Though the main floor has been vacant since the early 2000s, Stadheim said that the last occupant was TGI Freitags – a furniture rental store.

The vision for the future of the building no longer includes residential space on the second floor, but instead office space that would share common areas such as break and board rooms.

“There is definitely a demand in Owatonna and a lot of inquiries for spaces like that which are otherwise kind of difficult to provide,” Stadheim said. “We will be testing the market a little bit with the upper level, but I think we will be pleasantly surprised by it.”

As for the main floor, Stadheim was happy to announce they’ve signed a lease with the owners of Graif Clothing in Mankato. The Owatonna location will be the business’ second. Graif Clothing specializes in men’s clothes as well as tuxedo rentals, but also offers a selection of women’s clothing.

“We’ve had a large following in Owatonna for several years, so it felt right,” said Matt and Marissa Brostrom, owners of Graif Clothing. “We did our research and have been hearing from several people that there’s really nowhere in Owatonna to buy a men’s shirt, so we couldn’t be more happy to come to Owatonna and be a part of the community.”

It has been a number of years since Owatonna has had a men’s clothing store following the closure of St. Clair’s for Men in 2015 after 125 years in business. Stadheim said that he is looking forward to helping bring what he calls a “men’s boutique” back to the Owatonna market.

“This is a hole in the community that we need back,” Stadheim said. “They have a great business with everything from their tux rentals to higher end clothes to everyday apparel, we are excited to have them here.”

While Redline will not be using historical funds to remodel the downtown building, Stadheim said that they will be using a lot of the same “historical cosmetic detail” for the final design. This will include re-installing the original windows that are currently boarded up along Oak Avenue.

“We will be adding a few windows, too, to make it all a little more attractive,” Stadheim said. “It will be a whole new sight and an anchoring of what’s to come.”

Though Stadheim is remaining close to his chest with the details, he said that this project will be the first of a “much larger potential project” that’s being teased alongside the banners of the 202 Bridge Street building.

“There has been a lot of effort from so many parties, including from the city, to get downtown redeveloped and improved,” Stadheim said. “Everybody is putting forth a lot of effort to try to improve some of the gateway to downtown and along the river.”

Mohs echoed Stadheim’s excitement, adding that this project is just the beginning.

“It’s been a number of years in the making of trying to make that river walk and pathway area something a little more special for Owatonna,” Mohs said. “This is hopefully the start of a lot of cool things to take place.”

Stadheim said that they aim to have Graif Clothing moved in to the location by November, with the office spaces opening up on the upper level by spring 2021.

Disability service providers look to state for help

With many of Minnesota’s adult daycare providers on the brink of financial ruin, and several local legislators are calling on the state to provide a lifeline.

In a June 8 letter, state Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter, joined representatives John Petersburg, R-Waseca, and Brian Daniels, R-Faribault, in asking Gov. Tim Walz to support legislation that would provide some $30 million in COVID-19 retention grants for service providers.

A bill to do just that was sponsored by Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and passed by the Senate in the first special session by a unanimous vote. However, it lacked a companion bill in the House and subsequently died.

“(Our disability service providers) haven’t been taken care of as other businesses have been,” Petersburg said. “I think they just got missed in the legislation… certainly they qualify for help, but everything has to be appropriated and spent through the state.”

Disabled Americans have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adult daycares were quick to close in March, which makes sense given that many disabled Americans may have health conditions that make them particularly susceptible to COVID.

However, while some disabled Americans do have access to government programs, others have a much more difficult time because they rely heavily on the money they make by working at organizations now closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the pandemic hit, funding that normally comes in from state and federal agencies to compensate has been lost. While a majority of states have sought waivers from the federal government to keep its dollars flowing during the closure, Minnesota has not.

The Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services finally allowed adult day care centers to residents of group homes, who make up most of their clients. Previously, only individuals who live in private homes could receive services.

Still, Cedar Valley Services’s Rich Pavek said that many of its clients will not be returning, either because their health condition obviously makes it too much of a risk or because their family or caregivers opt not to send them back.

Pavek said that Cedar Valley has a rigorous COVID preparedness plan that is designed to reduce the risk of transmission. Under state regulations, clients can only participate in in-house programming for up to three hours a day, though the limit doesn’t apply to jobs.

The region’s largest service provider, Cedar Valley has roughly 250 staff members and 350 clients, with offices in Albert Lea, Austin and Owatonna. Because of its size, Cedar Valley’s opportunity to access programs intended to aid small businesses has been limited.

Meanwhile, the organization doesn’t pay into the state unemployment system, so it must pay benefits out of its own pocket. Most staff have continued to come to work in order to fulfill contracts Cedar Valley has with local businesses.

Still, Pavek said that the organization’s reserves have left it better equipped to deal with the “rainy day” than smaller disability service providers. In addition, revenue from those existing business contracts has helped.

The region’s two other biggest disability service providers are Waseca-based Jobs Plus and Le Sueur County Development Services. All three programs are designed to help the disabled maximize their skills and talents.

While work forms the core of the services provided by all three local community organizations, it is just one part of a holistic approach to helping the disabled live fulfilling lives, along with socialization and community building activities.

Jobs Plus’s Katie Neegard said that she’s been in close contact with legislators on the topic. Without funding, she warned that programs providing essential services for adults with disabilities could face permanent closure.

“This is kind of like our lifeline,” she said. “If it doesn’t get approved, our programs will start closing, leaving hundreds of people without disability services.”

St. Peter’s Brand said that the biggest roadblock for the legislation may be the state’s fiscal situation. With the economy reeling from COVID-related fallout, legislators watched a $1.5 billion projected surplus turn into a $2.5 billion deficit overnight.

Instead of looking to state funding, Brand said the Legislature may have to use funding from its CARES Act allocation. Regardless, he insisted that the funding be made a priority, arguing that saving providers now would provide immense benefit over the long term.

“As a DFLer, I feel like my job is to stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, and I can’t think of anyone who fits that description more than people with disabilities,” he said. “$30 million might not go that far, but without that funding, I don’t know how they’re going to make it.”

Tina Smith

U.S. Senator Tina Smith bumps elbows with Waseca Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Fitch, right, Tuesday outside Trio Coffee, Wine & Ale House in Waseca. Smith took part in a three-city tour to hear from small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nick Gerhardt/Waseca County News)

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