Willmar-owned lots on Block 25 in downtown to be sold to apartment developer

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May 19—WILLMAR — Lumber One Development Company will soon be the new owner of half of Block 25 in downtown Willmar.

The Willmar City Council on Monday approved selling four city-owned parcels on the west side of the block for $1 per parcel. The developer plans to construct an apartment complex on the block, bringing much needed housing to the area.

"This will be the first private project of its size and cost in downtown Willmar in many decades," said David Ramstad, Willmar Planning and Development director.

The council approved the sale in a 7-0 vote following a public hearing. Councilor Audrey Nelsen abstained from the vote and any discussion as her family is involved in a private land sale with the developer for a portion of the remaining half of the block.

Block 25 is located between Second and Third Street Streets Southwest, bordered by U.S. Highway 12 and Benson Avenue in downtown Willmar. It is also located within the Willmar Renaissance Zone, an economic development program approved by the city in May 2020. The pilot program offers a variety of development incentives including free building permits and utility hook-ups and practically free city-owned property.

The parcels are currently being used as a public parking lot. Ramstad said, based on a survey being done by the staff, during peak business hours only about 40 percent of the lot is used. He feels the housing project would be a better use of the land as well as putting it back on the tax rolls and supporting economic development.

The proposed apartment complex will have about 57 units, with parking for residents on the ground floor. The vast majority of the units will be market rate. The total investment is being estimated at $10 million, which eventually could mean about $50,000 in annual tax revenue.

"The developer has significant experience constructing several successful housing projects across greater Minnesota," Ramstad said.

Block 25 Lofts Concept Art by West Central Tribune on Scribd

Aaron Backman, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, said Willmar needs a variety of housing types and the proposed development will help. There has always been housing downtown, Backman said, but it is aged and doesn't meet the needs for many people.

"What we are trying to do is get some updated housing that young professionals can use, with some walkability," Backman said.

The council's approval came following a public hearing, which is mandatory before city land can be sold. There were two commenters, both property owners downtown.

Stephen Deleski said the development could bring new tax revenue to the area, but he had concerns regarding the impact of removing a public parking lot and whether there were enough people who would want to live near Highway 12 and the railyard.

Randy Czarnetzki said he hoped the city would support the project, though he is biased as he owns some of the private property being purchased for the project. Czarnetzki is also a supporter of the Renaissance Zone.

"The Renaissance Zone program is helping us developers improve properties that are nearby," Czarnetzki said.

Lumber One officials have said they are hopeful construction can begin this year on the building. If for some reason the private land sale does not go through, the city agreement will be canceled.