After more than a decade of work by the Historical Preservation Committee, Waseca’s downtown has been officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Historic Downtown in Waseca stretches from the 3rd Avenue NE/NW and 2nd Avenue SE/SW, roughly bounded by 2nd Street NW/SW and 2nd Street NE/SE in Waseca.
New banners, designed by Waseca Art Center Executive Director Andrew Breck recognizing the designation of a historic downtown, will be displayed downtown in the spring of 2021, along with new street signs that will be added, according to Assistant to the City Manager Mike Anderson.
HPC board members, city council members, city staff and many others spent countless hours researching the buildings of downtown to complete the necessary steps and applications to be approved for the National Register.
Impact of being on the National Register
Being a part of the National Register of Historic Places will directly impact the economy of Waseca by drawing in tourists as well as benefit the building owners through tax credit programs, HPC board members said.
“Right away, my first thing is the economic piece that historical downtown brings into a community,” said Joan Mooney, executive director of programs and research at the Waseca County History Center. “And that is so complementary to what these downtown business owners have been trying to do, attract outside people to come into our region to spend the night in our hotels, to spend the money at these local bars, restaurants. There is a real strong economic engine that goes with historic districts downtown.”
City Councilor and HPC member Les Tlougan said there are people who travel specifically to places on the National Register, which will help increase the tourism of Waseca. Along with increased tourism, the designation allows those building owners to apply for a historic tax credit.
Prior to applying to be on the National Register, the HPC held multiple meetings for building owners to attend and ask questions about what it means to own a building in a historic district. Tlougan said three building owners showed up to the last meeting before sending the application to the state, but the HPC is continuing to work on educating the building owners.
According to the Waseca HPC Downtown Preservation Guideline book, there is a federal historic preservation tax credit if a building owner wants to rehabilitate their historic buildings. The guide states that commercial, industrial and rental residential structures that are individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places or within a National Register district qualify for a 20% investment tax credit.
The Minnesota Historic Preservation Tax Credits also allows building owners in the historic district a state income tax credit equal to 20% of the cost of rehabilitating a qualifying historic property.
Reaching the point of being officially listed on the National Register of Historic Place took multiple steps.
“It’s not a simple process,” Mooney said. “It’s refining and refining until everything is in perfect order. It’s hard, it’s not easy by any means.”
The HPC first had to apply to be a certified local government that operates under the city of Waseca. The HPC is a commission under the city’s umbrella and it’s a working relationship between the city and the HPC.
“(The HPC) has to be valued all the way around to keep working together to keep getting new gains,” Mooney said.
Being a certified local government allowed the HPC to apply for more grants and for state grants that covered most of the cost to be listed on the National Register.
The entire process over the years to become a historic downtown cost about $30,000, with little of that money coming from the city.
Waseca was required to match the amount granted for some of the grants, but most of the city’s required cost was paid in staff time completing the research for the application process. The funds came from state and federal funding, with some grants awarded from the Waseca Area Foundation from the EF Johnson Foundation specifically.
The HPC was also able to use Legacy money from the state of Minnesota. This is a three-eighths of 1% sales tax that was passed by Minnesota residents in 2008 that lasts through 2034. The tax revenue is split between four funds with the arts and cultural heritage fund, where the HPC falls into, receiving about 20% of the additional sales tax dollars.
Mooney commented that the relationship between the HPC and the city council has allowed the HPC to write grant applications and receive funds to keep moving forward with the designation of a historic downtown.
Steps to becoming a Historic Downtown
Thomas Zahn and Associates in St. Paul completed the next step in the application process by preparing a city of Waseca Historic Context Study, which outlined the significance of cultural resources of varied sites, structures, districts and other elements in Waseca. It was done to create an organizational tool for defining the community’s history and evaluating its resources.
According to the context study, the findings also assist commissioners in making difficult decisions about the preservation of buildings, sites, and structures that best represent Waseca’s history, and to target future preservation efforts in the areas where they are most effective.
Following the context study, a reconnaissance survey of three of the city’s oldest residential neighborhoods and a comprehensive survey of Waseca’s Historic Central Business District was completed by Zahn in 2012. That survey involved researching all buildings in the designated areas for when each was built, building type, what it was used for and any other history of each building that could be found.
“That took a while and that was where we ended up doing some work,” Tlougan said.
From the context study and the survey the HPC, with help from Zahn, created the City of Waseca Downtown Preservation Design Guidelines in 2014 for businesses and residents to use when remodeling or renovating a historic building.
Once the studies were completed the HPC was able to start the application process for applying to be on the National Register of Historic Places. In November 2019 the HPC submitted the final application to the State Historic Preservation Office. The State Historic Preservation Review Board voted to move the application forward to the National Park Service for final approval for the Waseca Downtown Historic District.
In January 2020, the HPC received the news that Waseca would be added to the list of National Register for Historic Places.
The boundaries of the Historic District of Waseca have been set, but the HPC can apply to expand the area when and if there is a desire to do so. Tlougan said he’d like to consider other structures around town that aren’t as old as the Historic area downtown but meet the 50 years or older criteria.
“You can add to your district,” Mooney said. “It’s something that I’d like to keep on the table. The problem is when you have buildings that have been removed, it leaves gaping holes in your boundaries and one of the problems we had is we had to have a consolidated stretch, so just pushing to include the mills and the train depot is something I would really like to establish in the future. First, we just had to establish the district itself and you can always add to it.”
Communities could have lost a good time and funding for crucial services with the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train’s cancellation this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the annual event will go virtual this year.
Since it first launched in 1999, the Holiday Train has traveled across Canada and the northern United States raising money, collecting food and drawing attention to the important work of local food banks. In its first 21 years, the train has raised $17.8 million and collected 4.8 million pounds of food for local food banks in communities along CP’s network.
“We cannot responsibly bring the train over and on the route it normally goes that brings those big community gatherings together,” said Andy Cummings, a CP spokesperson. “So we are bringing our concert live and airing it over our Facebook.”
The Holiday Train At Home concert will take place at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 12, on the Canadian Pacific Facebook page. Bringing live music into the homes of the people who normally would attend the Holiday Train events is only step one of the process. In addition, Cummings said CP will be making donations to all 201 local food banks the Holiday Train has benefited in the last two years.
“The need is significant out there at this time of year, so we made the determination to make all of those donations again,” Cummings said, noting that while there are some stops that alternate years on the regular schedule, every food bank will be included in 2020.
The Waseca Area Food Shelf and the Janesville Food Shelf have both received donations in the past from the Holiday Train event. The Waseca Area Food Shelf feeds about 100 families a month, which increases during the holidays.
“(The donation) means that we will be able to provide more nutritious food,” Waseca Area Food Shelf Coordinator Niki Schaffer said. “With this money, we can stretch our purchase more so than if someone would donate the food. The money always stretches further because of who we order from (Channel 1).”
The Holiday Train events typically encourage those who attend to bring a donation to the food shelf, whether it be monetary or a nonperishable item and both Waseca and the Janesville Food Shelf are accepting both, though a monetary donation goes further.
Schaffer said if people want to bring a donation to the Waseca Food Shelf, they should call ahead so someone is there to accept the donation.
“I’m very excited for Waseca County to be able to receive the money,” Schaffer said. “It’s a good surprise during the holiday and with the harder times that we’re going through right now, it makes the food shelf feel even more confident to be able to help people when they come in for food.”
The Janesville Food Shelf is also receiving a donation from the Holiday Train event for $4,500, matching the 2019 donation. Each month the food shelf feeds around 70 families with some fluctuation during the holidays.
“It was a nice surprise,” Janesville Food Shelf Director Kay Gottschalk said. “I wasn’t really expecting it, but it’s appreciated.”
Gottschalk continued to say that this money will help provide food for the year.
“During our virtual event, we will talk about the important work local food banks are doing and hope people will consider making an additional donation to them,” Cummings said. He said CP will also be providing a link to Feeding America, a nonprofit hunger relief organization with a nationwide network of food banks, as an option for a place to make donations.
CP anticipates bringing the Holiday Train back on the circuit in 2021.
A bill that has the potential to increase sentencing for those who attempt to harm a Minnesota police officer has secured the support of two local legislators.
Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) and Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) have committed to introducing and carrying the Matson Strong bill through the Minnesota House and Senate in the upcoming legislative session. The bill, if passed would change state law on the maximum sentencing for the attempted murder of a peace officer, a charge being led by Waseca County Attorney Rachel Cornelius and Megan Matson, the wife of Waseca Police Officer Arik Matson who was shot in the head while responding to a call in January. Matson was critically injured and will likely have lifelong complications from the shooting, while his assailant, Tyler Janovsky, will spend no more than 35 years in prison.
Two other officers were shot at during the event but were uninjured, adding a maximum 15-year sentencing to the maximum 20-year sentence Janovsky received for shooting Matson. Janovsky, who pleaded guilty to the attempted murder in July, must serve at least two thirds of his prison sentencing before being eligible for parole.
“We just feel that the 20 years is inadequate for officers who have been severely injured in the line of duty,” Cornelius said after announcing her push to change state law. “Being shot at, but not physically harmed (20 years) does seem adequate, but it’s not adequate for officers whose whole lives are affected forever.”
While the process is still new and ongoing, including how those behind the effort will recommend an adequate maximum sentence for defendants who critically injure a peace officer, it is a push that both Petersburg and Jasinski feel passionate about. Petersburg, who lives in Waseca, where Matson was shot, hopes they will be able to include all first responders in the bill.
“We want people to know that when somebody is sacrificing and laying their life out on the line by responding to emergencies that we have protections for them,” Petersburg said. “We already are starting to get a lot of people interested in supporting and pushing this bill forward, and that’s because of the rationale for it: when a police officer is pursuing public safety and trying to protect the rest of us and are fired upon with deadly force, the penalty ought to be reflective of that violation and be a deterrent not to take that particular action.”
Deterrence is also the number one priority for Jasinski as he prepares a bill for the state Senate, adding that he plans for the Matson Strong bill to be atop his to do list moving into the next session, which begins Jan. 5.
“I am a big supporter of law enforcement so I am excited about this bill and how it will address this issue,” Jasinski said. “When a life is so tragically affected by what is going on, such as in Arik’s case, then the sentencing terms should be longer, we need that to send a strong message that we support these people who every single day put their lives on the line.”
Jasinski said he is expecting the bill to have bipartisan support in the Senate, though he knows it will be a harder road to get there due to how the session and committees will look due to COVID-19.
“Zoom meetings just aren’t the same, you don’t get the opportunity to see people and have those conversations in passing — there are so many things you don’t get when you do distance legislating,” Jasinski said. “It’s going to take a lot of extra effort to get this thing through, but I told Megan Matson that this will be the bill I’m going to spend my time on to get this done. It is very important to recognize what happened to her family and that it should never happen again. To do that we need to send a strong message, and this needs to be it.”
Petersburg said he anticipates a bit of push in the House. For the last few years there has been a tendency toward reduced sentencing for various crimes, coupled with the heated debates surrounding police reform following the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. With this particular bill, however, Petersburg is hoping for bipartisan support.
“I think this is entirely different, this isn’t a situation where an officer is acting outside of their training or responsibility, this is a situation where they were violated by somebody who was breaking the law,” Petersburg said. “I think all of us realize that we need to do what we can to support and protect our police officers.”
Petersburg believes this case is a prime example of an area where the criminal justice system could be improved.
“This is the system we’re living in now and if we want to make that change into the future we need to work now toward getting it accomplished,” Petersburg said. “This bill will hopefully have some impact.”
Though Cornelius feels a harsher sentence would be appropriate in cases where the officer is critically injured, such as with Matson, Petersburg isn’t sure he feels there needs to be a difference.
“In my opinion, it is all attempt to murder,” he said. Petersburg added that the bill is just in its infancy, and specifics, yet to be addressed, could always end up altered in committee.
Jasinksi echoed Petersburg’s sentiments, but said that ultimately, he wants to ensure that the state doesn’t leave room for a perpetrator to even consider harming a police officer.
“Deterrence is the big, strong word here,” Jasinski said. “I don’t want anyone to just take a shot at an officer and miss so they will get less of a penalty, but if someone is gravely injured then maybe we should look at a second level. It’s something we are going to have to address as it moves forward.”
Following Janovsky’s sentencing in November, Megan Matson said she believes there will never be a long enough sentence to make up for the time she and her daughters lost with her husband. Arik Matson was shot in early January, not returning home for nine months.
The time to make the change is now, she said, adding that she could endorse different charges depending on whether an office was injured and how serious those injuries were.
“… If they’re able to go back to work that’s great, but in Arik’s situation as of right now he probably cannot go back to work, and that charge should be different,” Matson said. “I feel like being able to have justice for the Thin Blue Line brothers and sisters and to be able to do something so in the future we can get them justice. That’s our purpose.”