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WRTC campus discussions get more complex

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Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- In a process that resembles a game of musical chairs, a new player has now been added to the complicated real estate transaction involving the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

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In action Tuesday, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution authorizing the county to receive the WRTC campus from the state, which was part of the plan when legislators approved the $1 transaction this spring.

The ultimate goal is to get most of the land and buildings into the hands of two local businesses -- Epitopix and Nova-Tech Engineering -- which intend to develop the WRTC into the MinnWest Technology Campus.

To get to that step, the original plan called for the county to transfer the property to the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, which would then sell the property for $900,000 to MinnWest, which would then sell seven buildings and 18 acres back to the county, which would lease most of those buildings back to the state to house existing programs.

MinnWest would keep 37 buildings and 95 acres of land. On Tuesday, it was revealed that instead of the EDC being the middle man, the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority will take on that role.

Commissioner Dean Shuck said the change was made in the last week to avoid a lag time in ownership of the WRTC campus. Shuck said County Administrator Wayne Thompson was concerned that the EDC would be held liable for problems during the days they were the official owners. Thompson was not at the meeting Tuesday.

In a telephone interview, Steve Renquist, executive director of the EDC, said in order for the EDC to transfer the land, a public hearing would have been required. That hearing could not have been held until the EDC was named the owner. With a 10-day notice required for a public hearing, Renquist said that meant the EDC would have had to buy insurance, maintain the campus, pay the bills and be liable for the facility during the 10 to 12 days prior to the hearing.

He said he was notified earlier this month about the problem and was informed by county staff and the EDC attorney that the Willmar HRA would be a better entity to handle the transfer.

"The HRA is apparently able to do it without a hearing," said Renquist. That means the numerous steps in the transaction can take place in a matter of minutes rather than days.

It also reduces the liability and financial risks for the EDC.

"It's hard to disagree with the reasons," he said, while acknowledging that some people may consider the move a means to avoid a public hearing on the transaction.

A public hearing would have allowed people a chance to voice opposition or support of the project, or to hear about proposals from "other suitors," said Renquist.

The unanimous passage of the resolution Tuesday authorizes the County Board and county auditor to execute the transfer of property. It's not known exactly when the transaction will be completed.

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