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What will it cost to transfer the Biermann House?

October 5, 2018

While minor work to stabilize and keep water out of the historic Biermann House will start this fall, transferring ownership could be more than a year away — at an unknown county expense.

Olmsted County commissioners have agreed to spend up to $75,000 in county funds for a consultant to oversee the process aimed at eventually transferring ownership of the property at 3730 Mayowood Road SW to Rochester business owner Joe Powers.

Commissioners, in a split vote, approved a plan in June, calling for Powers to take over the deteriorating property to preserve it and convert it into rental housing.

The Biermann House was once owned by Adolph Biermann, a Norwegian immigrant who acquired the home and related farm in the final decades of the 1800s. It is now part of the Mayowood Historic District.

To implement the bulk of his plan, Powers must first take possession of the property, which the county bought in 1979 with a nearby 70 acres to be used for recreational purposes.

Powers and the county have signed a short-term agreement needed to stabilize the building through the winter, but Powers has said he wants to limit expenses until the property is officially transferred.

“We just have to get through all the levels of government,” he said.

Since the house and surrounding land were purchased with the assistance of state and federal grants, the county must dedicate land of equal value to new recreational uses before the Biermann ownership can transfer, which is where the consultant fees come into play.

Minneapolis-based Preservation Design Works, also commonly known as PVN, is being hired to oversee the process of converting the land to private ownership, which will require appraisal of the historic house and appraisal of any land the county hopes to convert to recreational use.

Powers has pledged to provide the first $50,000 for the property switch, and Olmsted County Park Superintendent Karlin Ziegler estimated the PVN contract would cost approximately $75,000 if new land purchases or other expenses can be avoided.

“We do feel there is quite a bit of potential for things to increase,” she said, noting several factors will influence final expenses.

The unknown financial outcome prompted county commissioners to cap the expense at $100,000 for the base contract with up to another $25,000 for potential changes. They said they are willing to revisit the funding, if costs climb.

“I’m not saying I won’t go over $100,000,” Commissioner Jim Bier said, adding that he wants to ensure the county board reviews added costs.

Commissioner Mark Thein said he worries about starting the project with so many variables.

“You can’t stop the conversion once it starts,” he said of the process to make the public land private.

Bier said he’d be willing to switch gears at a later date if costs skyrocket.

In the end the commissioners voted 4-2 to start the conversion process, with Thein and Board Chairwoman Shelia Kiscaden opposed and Commissioner Stephanie Podulke absent.

County staff has noted failing to convert the property would mean the sale won’t happen and other options would be sought for the property.

Mark Hindermann of Pine Island, the financial benefactor behind a propsal presented by the Rochester Parks and Recreation Department, said in recent weeks that he maintains interest in restoring the house if current plans fall through.

The parks proposal initiated by the former part-owner of Rochester Sand & Gravel sought to renovate the building into a public attraction and potential meeting space with the cooperation of the Parks Department and community members. While Hindermann planned to cover renovation costs, the proposal called for the city to own the property, meaning conversion to private use would not be required.

Hindermann said he has looked at investing in historical preservations efforts elsewhere, but was hoping his support would be close to home.

“I’d rather do something right here in river city,” he said.

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