Jul. 1—A vacant Mitchell Main Street lot, across from the Corn Palace, that's been shrouded in controversy for the cheap price it sold for in 2019 will change ownership later this month.
Matt Doerr, property owner of the lot where a former Casey's gas station was located, on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Main Street, is seeking to transfer the property to a new owner for $20,000, roughly $19,000 more than what he paid to acquire the lot in 2019. The Mitchell City Council will consider approving Doerr's request to transfer the former Casey's lot to CJG Properties LLC for $20,000 during Tuesday's 6 p.m. meeting at City Hall.
Doerr purchased the property from the Mitchell Area Development Corporation roughly two years ago for $900.80, which was a move that sparked criticism from downtown business owners and community members since it was valued at $25,750 at the time of the sale.
According to the council agenda, the city has the "reoccuring right of first refusal," which was a stipulation under the special warranty deed. Therefore, if the council denies Doerr's request to sell the property to CJG Properties LLC (Jeremy Gunkel, a Mitchell resident) for $20,000, the city can purchase the property back from Doerr at a cost of $20,000. However, if the city is not interested in purchasing the property from Doerr, the proposed $20,000 sale with CJG Properties "will move forward by July 31," according to the council agenda, which also noted "the city cannot stop the sale of the property."
Council Vice President Dan Allen said he's opposed to the entire proposal to sell the lot for $20,000, including the option for the city to acquire it back. For Allen, the events that have unfolded at the Main Street are a "black eye" for the MADC.
"I'm not supporting buying this back for $20,000. This should be a black eye on the MADC, not the city," Allen said. "We turned it over to the MADC for $1 to let them develop it. We were told the MADC had a guy who was going to redevelop it and put a boutique there. ... Obviously, it never happened. And then I found out he was a board member of the Chamber of Commerce after the fact, so I think there is a lot of conflict of interest here."
The proposal of the lot sale is also not sitting well with Council President Kevin McCardle, who said he's "very disappointed" that the land hasn't been developed like initially promised.
"We were promised that there would be some development on this, but none of those promises were kept. Now the property owner wants to go and sell it for way more than what he paid for it," McCardle said. "I don't like business being done that way. It's wrong."
Following the sale of the property in 2019, Megan Suarez, owner of Adorn Boutique on Main Street, criticized the price tag of the lot, calling the MADC's decision to sell the lot for $900.80 "unfair."
"I think it's unfair to other business owners in the community, and it's also unfair to the city because a $25,000 lot in that nice of an area would have been a great asset to the city that could have helped a lot of people," Suarez said in an interview with the Mitchell Republic.
Doerr, a Mitchell resident and treasurer for the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce board, purchased the land with the initial goal of redeveloping the lot and constructing a building to make way for a business. Doerr told the Mitchell Republic about a year ago that his plan to redevelop the lot was stalled due to the economic uncertainty that was brought on by COVID-19.
"We had preliminary designs drawn up with a local architect earlier this year for a building that could provide a platform for a handful of business opportunities," Doerr said in an email response to the Mitchell Republic in 2020. "However, COVID-19 has halted our plans and caused us to re-evaluate."
Prior to Doerr's purchase of the former Casey's lot, located at 701 N. Main St., the city of Mitchell acquired it from Casey's General Store. Shortly after acquiring the property, the Mitchell City Council approved transferring the lot to the MADC to allow the organization to spearhead redeveloping it. The MADC opted to sell the lot to Doerr for $900.80 and allow him to move forward with his plans he had for the property.
The lot also came with a handful of covenants and restrictions that were established by Casey's General Store, mainly the stipulation that the property can't house a business that would directly compete with Casey's for the next 15 years, including selling food or convenience store items. Although several food trucks have parked at the lot and sold food items in the past year, Doerr said he received permission from Casey's General Store officials to do so.
The $900.80 lot sale to Doerr was during the tenure of Mark Vaux, former executive director of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation. Vaux was asked to resign from his position in August 2020.