A downtown building with a history that's inextricably linked with the city's may soon be no more.

The condition of the former Faribault Woolen Mill store, at the corner of Fourth Street NW and Second Avenue NW, is so bad that even Paul Mooty, who in 2011 helped rejuvenate the then shuttered mill, passed on a potential purchase.

"I probably overstepped my bounds," Commissioner Dave Miller said during a Tuesday board meeting, "But I offered it to (Paul) for a dollar and he wouldn't take it. Then I offered it to him for 50 cents."

The building, which has been in the city's hands since 1999, is failing. County Parks and Facilities Director Matt Verdick says water damage to the roof, visible through holes in an upstairs ceiling, predates the county's ownership. There's apparent water damage to the exterior as well, with bricks bulging from the western wall along Second Avenue NW. Since February, those bricks have shifted outward at least another inch despite 2x6" supports installed on the building's interior to keep it from collapsing.

The failures, Verdick says, signal the need for quick action. Commissioners Miller and Jim Purfeerst, who serve on a county committee looking at all of the buildings on the block and its future, agreed.

"It's a neat idea to save this building," said Miller, a member of the Rice County Historical Society, "but I don't think this is where (the Woolen Mill's) history is. … If we are going to spend taxpayer dollars on a building that shouldn't be saved, I have a problem with that."

Verdick estimates the cost just to shore up the building, built in the late 19th century but not on the National Register of Historic Places, at $517,000. According to county records, it's valued at $148,000.

Olof Hanson, a well-known local architect who attended what's now Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, designed the building, according to Lisa M. Bolt Simon's book, "Faribault Woolen Mill: Loomed in the Land of Lakes."  The Klemers, who then owned the Woolen Mill, hired Hanson in 1895 to construct a building to house mill offices and a store. The original mill, since razed, was behind the two-story brick structure while the home of owner C.H. Klemer sat to its south, just up the hill.

Next week, Verdick plans to ask commissioners to approve a request looking for architects interested in helping plan the future of that portion of the block. It's an important one for the city of Faribault, with much of it facing one of the city's main east/west thoroughfares. 

According to Commissioner Steve Underdahl, the architects will consider how best to design the block with the former Woolen Mill store and its next door neighbor, which shares a common wall, gone. They'll likely consider how to use the road frontage for parking while making the downtown gateway visually appealing. 

Parking is likely to be an interim use for a portion of the property, said Underdahl, while the county decides how to use the available land. Purfeerst suggested using the former Woolen Mill story site as green space with some sort of recognition of its former occupant and the Mill's role in Faribault's history.

Faribault city leaders have expressed interest in using the former Lyons Meats property for overflow parking for police vehicles. That building, which the county purchased in 2019 and has no architectural significance, is also expected to be razed.

The future of a fourth building, at 119 Fourth St. NW, remains in flux, according to County Administrator Sara Folsted. It's currently being used as the Facilities Department garage/family visitation site, but needs to be reviewed to determine whether it complies with federal workplace standards.

As for the future of the two murals on the Fourth Street buildings, Verdick says the county plans to remove the panels with the Tilt-a-Whirl mural from 119 Fourth and have it installed elsewhere in town. As for the welcome to Faribault mural, emblazoned on the damaged wall, Verdick says that will be recreated and posted on another downtown building.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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