KingPins Fire

All but the front entrance at KingPins in St. Peter was taken down by a fire Feb. 16. (Herald file photo)

The site of the former KingPins boelwing alley is on track to be cleaned up this fall.

After a deadline for the owner of the site to clean it up passed earlier this month, the city is now able to take matters into its own hands, pending a court order expected soon. At its Oct. 12 meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to hire the lowest bidder, Rehnelt Excavating, of Kasota, to finish demolition and clean up the site, after a Feb. 16 morning fire destroyed the property.

“We’re just awaiting court documents and conversation with the court that will allow us to complete the demolition and move forward,” St. Peter Public Works Director Pete Moulton said. “We’d like to get things going.”

Rehnelt Excavating is charging about $48,000 for the work (the highest bid was over $200,000), while the city will incur an additional $20,000 in cost of its own labor for utility disconnects, parking lot removal and restoration of the area. All of the costs will be assessed against the property on its annual taxes.

The property owner —Eyebowl, LLC — was given 30 days to clean up the site on its own in early September. Now that the deadline is passed, a court order should be issued, allowing the city to go forward the cleanup and assess the cost to taxes. Ultimately, if the property owner cannot pay those taxes, the property would be left to the mortgage holders. The mortgage holders could eventually turn over the property to the city, potentially recouping their own costs through insurance.

If the city does end up in possession of the property, City Administrator Todd Prafke indicated staff’s preference would be to convert it into residential properties, as it is already surrounded by residences. Mayor Chuck Zieman inquired, on a hypothetical basis, whether the land could be used for solar panels. Prafke and Moulton both indicated the preferred change would be to residential, but the land does have potential for other uses, like a solar field. Zieman noted it was just something to keep in mind.

Background

The February fire burned down the bowling alley almost entirely, but no injuries were reported and no damage was done to adjacent properties. A mess of debris remains at the site, which is highly visible from Hwy. 99 coming into St. Peter and also from Hwy. 169. After giving time for a thorough investigation and then more time for owners to take care of the mess on their own, the city is pushing for a resolution.

In a release the day of the fire, St. Peter Fire Department Chief Matt Ulman said the cause of the fire was being investigated and it may take a few weeks before anything is known. Four months later, the investigation wrapped up and charges were filed against Dwight Lee Selders, 47, a co-owner of the business. He was charged with first- and second-degree arson, both felonies.

Selders made his first appearance in court virtually on July 28. He is now scheduled for a jury trial to begin April 12, 2021.

According to the complaint, the first officer on scene reported seeing the south half of the building engulfed in flames. That officer noticed the fire moving north at a “very rapid pace.” The St. Peter fire chief reported the fire was “very large, blowing out fire approximately 30 feet into the air.” The chief reported the roof collapsed from the south and the entire roof subsequently collapsed in just 30 minutes.

According to the complaint, surveillance video shows Selders, who co-owned the business, walking out and locking up the night of Feb. 15. The next morning, Feb. 16, at approximately 7:24 a.m., according to the complaint, Selders was reportedly seen on surveillance video unlocking and entering the facility. He was reportedly the only person seen exiting or entering the building between those periods.

Selders was allegedly seen on camera walking to the back, behind the pin-setting machines, and an investigator later determined, according to the complaint, that the fire origin was behind one of the pin-setting machines, and the first material ignited was vapors from an ignitable liquid, and that an open fire instrument was used. The investigator determined the cause to be incendiary material.

According to the complaint and to property records, Selders and Jessica Ann Tonsfeldt purchased the property in 2014. Tonsfeldt has not been charged in relation to the fire. The two were reportedly a couple when they started the business together but had split in October 2019, and Tonsfeldt had resigned her position four days before the fire occurred.

According to property records, the former KingPins building was first constructed in 1962 and had undergone a number of renovations since. It had served as a bowling alley for nearly 60 years, previously named Bowlero Lanes and Sioux Trail Lanes.

Reach Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-931-8567 or follow him on Twitter @EditorPhilipWeyhe. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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