Owners of the historic Archer House and River Inn in downtown Northfield are concerned that a months-long insurance process is worsening water damage in the building following last November’s devastating fire and possibly further endangering the chances of salvaging the historic and beloved structure.

Brett Reese, managing principal and chairman of the Rebound Enterprises LLC Board, said he hopes they learn of the building’s fate by May. However, the board originally hoped to learn of that decision by the end of December before that timeline shifted to March. Word never came from the insurance company, Auto Owners Firm. The investigation was only recently completed.

Reese attributes the delays to the relatively large scope of the project and the significant loss incurred.

“We’re frustrated, disappointed,” Reese said of the delays. Meanwhile, he said the building “continues to sort of fall down.” Gaping holes in the building are still visible. During the exposure, extreme cold, snowstorms, wind and other adverse weather conditions have occurred, possibly further weakening the damaged building.

“We are very concerned about this and how it is going to affect the future of the building,” he said.

The iconic building, built along the east bank of the Cannon River, sustained heavy smoke and water damage throughout the structure during the Nov. 12 fire. Fire crews reportedly used more than 2 million gallons of water to combat the blaze over the course of nearly 24 hours. Some places, especially Smoqehouse restaurant and the four levels above, were completely damaged. In other spots, the damage wasn’t as extensive but still suffered smoke and water impacts. It initially appeared to be a total loss.

Building owners have said that once the fate of the Archer House is determined, they “will be able to begin in earnest the process of assessing future options for the site which could include a wide range of possibilities, but not limited to restoration, replacement or redevelopment.”

Already, former Archer House tenant Paper Petalum has moved to a new location. Chapati is reportedly looking for a new space, and Reese is unsure about the future of Smoqehouse and Tavern of Northfield.

Reese said if the structure needs to be taken down, the owners are interested in recognizing the role the Archer House played in Northfield and carrying a new structure forward with “charm, character,” an option he speculated could include a hotel, restaurant or apartments and condominiums.

During an April 22 Economic Development Authority meeting, Economic Development Coordinator Nate Carlson noted the owners were not allowed to stabilize the building during the insurance process, adding that the hood over the smoker at Smoqehouse, cited as the cause of the fire, had to be removed for examination. Reese said that during the investigation, a team coordinated the removal of certain items, using heavy equipment around the building, and possibly inflicted additional structural damage.

In noting the owners of the building recognize the building is in “dire need” of repairs, Carlson said city staff have been proactive in facilitating discussions about the possible redevelopment of the site as a tax increment financing district, a public subsidy intended to spark private redevelopment. Also possible is utilizing a 20% state tax credit for historic properties. However, any determination won’t be made until the owners finalize their plans.

EDA member Rachel Leatham said it’s important to have any structure at that location play an important community role.

“It’s a real focal point for development, and it’s an important area and an important building,” she said.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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