WORTHINGTON — City leaders plan to do what they can in order for construction at the Hotel Thompson to resume as soon as possible, City Administrator Steve Robinson said near the conclusion of Monday night’s Worthington City Council meeting.
Renovation of the historic hotel reached an impasse earlier this month when the building’s residential occupants refused to vacate the premises. Thompson owner Bob Buysse said last week that he’d sent notices to each apartment on Feb. 1 letting residents know they needed to be out by March 1. Residents ignored the correspondence, and another notice was sent giving them until April 1, but occupants still refused to leave.
“The police are frozen with fear from Gov. Walz’s order of not forcibly moving anybody out,” Buysse told The Globe last week. Executive Order 20-14, issued March 23, prohibits property owners and landlords from evicting tenants.
Monday night, Robinson said the city had been made aware of the situation at the Thompson about a week and half ago. He was told they couldn’t identify the specific units in which people were living, and suggested working with Worthington Public Utilities to find out which apartments were signed up for service. Robinson also said no complaint has yet to be filed with the Worthington Police Department.
Councilman Alan Oberloh pointed out that Fifth District Court Judge Gordon Moore issued a court order in 2018 giving the city permission to enter the apartment building and each of its 39 units as a result of pervasive, unsafe conditions.
“I think it behooves us as a city, which has the court order … to reach out to the governor’s office and say that these — are squatters and not renters,” Oberloh said.
Robinson responded that the city would likely investigate whether the previous court order still holds, or if a new one is necessary.
“There’s also the potential to act through our rental housing ordinance,” he added.
Assistant City Administrator Jason Brisson said people who at one time had valid leases for units in the Thompson, along with people who never had leases and “barged their way into the building,” have created a “potentially challenging” situation. Councilman Larry Janssen agreed with the possible legal quagmire.
“I have dealt with squatters before and they have their rights,” said Janssen, who also questioned if building occupants had received registered letters or not. “Talk to an attorney. I think Steve is on the right track … but squatters do have rights.”
Robinson and Brisson both pledged to continue pursuing legal options, and Oberloh expressed a hope for a timely remedy.
“They’ve (new building ownership) invested a lot of money and they’re stymied right now,” Oberloh said.
In other matters Monday night involving economic development, the council — acting in the capacity of the Economic Development Authority — approved the sale of 6,325 square feet of property west of U.S. 59 to Pat Janicek, a representative of JB Brooke Properties. City staff had reviewed the appraised price of the property and future development plans for the area during a Feb. 10 meeting. At that time, they passed a motion indicating their interest in disposing of the property at a price of $1.31 per square foot. Janicek owns the Frito Lay Distribution Center and is interested in a future expansion.
Also approved was the sale 1.1 acres of property west of U.S. 59 north of Interstate 90 to Bret Harklau, a representative of HHS, LLC for $1.31 per square foot. An ag-related retail business is planned for the site.
In other business Monday, the council approved:
Multiple amendments to the Nobles Home Initiative program created in 2014. Among the key changes are that participants receive approval for initiative participation prior to beginning construction.
A bid of $268,266 by Duininck Inc. of Prinsburg for the 2020 Sanitary and Storm Sewer Improvements Project. Ideal Landscape and Design Inc. was the other bidder at $276,461. Work will include storm sewer repairs in four locations — Eighth Avenue (13th Street to 185 feet southwest), 12th Street and Fourth Avenue, Ninth Street at Sixth Avenue and Fourth Avenue at 11th Street — and storm sanitary sewer repairs in two locations (Dorothea Boulevard and Fourth Avenue between 10th and 11th streets).
A bid of $57,247.60 from Fahrner Asphalt Sealers LLC for the Airport Taxiway B & C pavement maintenance project. The bid was significantly under the engineer’s estimate of $142,897.50 for the work.
A letter of support for Rebuilding Together, which has recently worked with Worthington, Jackson and Windom city staff on establishing a pilot project in southwest Minnesota. Rebuilding Together and city staff recently hosted an event to learn about community housing needs and to recruit volunteers for a Nobles County project. Rebuilding Together is now applying for funds to move forward with the project, and requested a letter of support from the city.
A private dock on public property permit application for Brian Standafer, who resides at 713 May St. Standafer has been a dock permit holder since 2015. A February letter from the resident at 719 May St. had questioned the city’s authority to issue a permit to Standafer, but an opinion from the city attorney led the council to again grant the permit application.