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City, county haggle over spec building

Participants in the April 4, 2006, groundbreaking ceremony for the new spec building in Worthington's bioscience industrial park along Prairie Drive are (from left) Jon Benson, Zuby Jansen, Alvin Kooiman, Trevor Nickel, Don Habicht, Pat Remme, Lyle Ten Haken, Glenn Thuringer, Marv Zylstra, Mel Ruppert, Judy Eykyn, Steve Robinson, Mary Brandt, Elaine Schuster and Russ Rickers. The City of Worthington has expressed an interest in purchasing Nobles County's share of the spec building, but negotiations are s...

WORTHINGTON -- Less than a week after Nobles County Commissioners expressed their desire to get the spec building in Worthington's Bioscience Park sold, a special meeting took place Monday night to entertain an offer from the City of Worthington on the property.

The city, one of several partners in the construction of the spec building nearly three years ago, wants to move forward with plans to create a training and testing center in a portion of the building. In doing so, it can capitalize on a $1.3 million grant it received from the state.

To move the project forward, the city offered to buy out the county's share for $150,000 -- nearly $56,000 less than what the county put into the project in land and construction.

In a special meeting of the county board at 5 p.m. Monday, commissioners opted not to accept the city's offer, but rather to propose a counter-offer requesting the city pay $205,605.80 -- the amount the county has invested in the land and building.

"This is 73 cents on the dollar," said Commissioner David Benson of the city's offer. "Part of my (thinking) is to get it off our backs, but this is not a reasonable offer."

While Commissioner Norm Gallagher pointed out that two and a half years is a relatively short amount of time for a spec building to sit empty, Commissioner Vern Leistico said finding a buyer could be advanced if additional work was done at the site to make it more attractive.

He said insulation on the building's interior needs to be replaced, the "three-foot weeds" need to be cleared away and a motor grader needs to go in and smooth out the surface around the building. He also suggested putting in a gravel driveway to access the site.

"It's a good, marketable building -- I think it needs to be cleaned up and ... look presentable," Leistico said.

Following more than a half hour of discussion the county agreed on the counter-offer, which was then followed by a 6 p.m. joint meeting with the Worthington City Council.

In that meeting, Mayor Alan Oberloh spoke of the urgency to make a decision on the spec building, as city leaders fear if they don't spend the $1.3 million grant for the development of the training and testing center, the state may rescind the money during the next legislative session.

"We feel an urgency to step up and start making some things happen," said Alderman Mike Woll. "We have some concern of losing those funds -- losing favor."

Oberloh said it is up to the city to make the first move in getting a training and testing center established in Worthington. He said once that move is made, the University of Minnesota has already expressed a desire to "have a presence" in the community.

"The opportunities could be endless -- we don't know," said Oberloh. "We're of the mindset that we'd like to see the build-out happen because there's $1.3 million that was acquired ... to do the build-out."

Alderman Ron Wood views the money as a "use it or lose it" situation for the city.

"I think it will be a machete cut for us to get any money in the future for bioscience (if we don't utilize the grant)," said Wood.

"Even without having another company come in, the $1.3 million would allow us to put a brick front on that building and clean it up and make it more presentable for even a lease," he said.

Addressing the county's desire not to become landlords, as well as renting space for the training and testing center at $2,500 per month, Oberloh said, "For me to tell you that this thing would make money, I'm not going to do that. We like (the training and testing center idea) because it's supposed to create opportunities."

Woll said that while a buy-out would work if the city and county could agree on a price, he wasn't willing to give up on the two entities working together in the future.

"I'd sure like it if we could remain partners," he said.

Commissioners also expressed interest in future partnerships.

"We're willing to partner, definitely," said Zylstra.

City leaders provided little reaction after hearing the county's counter-offer on the sale of the spec building, and did not address the matter during its council meeting that followed the joint city-county meeting.

Benson said that if the city wasn't willing to pay what the county requested, the county would maintain its stake in the spec building in the hopes that a buyer could be found soon.

Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. (WREDC) continues to work with a company in the wind turbine repair business that is interesting in leasing one-third of the spec building, said Oberloh. A decision from that company is expected in early December, with the potential for them to lease space for up to three years.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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