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Real estate closing for WRTC set to happen on Jan. 16

WILLMAR -- A deal to sell a majority of the land and buildings at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center to a private Willmar company will be closed on Jan. 16.

Jim Sieben, a spokesman for MinnWest Technology, said Thursday that verbal agreements on final issues were resolved Wednesday. Now all that's needed is the follow-up paperwork.

He said once the documents are "pulled together" and reviewed one last time by the company, the deal will be sealed. He said it's expected the transaction will take place in Willmar.

MinnWest Technology, which is made up of Nova-Tech Engineering and Epitopix -- companies that have their roots with Willmar Poultry -- will buy 95 acres and 37 buildings on the WRTC campus for $900,000. MinnWest Technology will use the land and buildings to develop a technology campus to house their businesses and other technology enterprises that they say could bring several hundred new jobs to town.

Kandiyohi County will purchase the remaining 18 acres and seven buildings for $1.

Wayne Waslaski, who handles real estate transactions for the Minnesota Department of Administration, confirmed the Jan. 16 date as the target timeline for final signatures.

In an interview Thursday, Waslaski said most of the final documents were sent to MinnWest Technology on Thursday and the remainder would be sent today. He said the company wanted one week to review the final versions of the 44 documents before the transaction is completed.

Waslaski said representatives from MinnWest and local government entities involved in the transaction, including Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar, met Wednesday to hash out the final sticking points. Waslaski wasn't at the meeting but participated in the discussion via telephone. Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, was one of the players at the negotiation table on Wednesday. He said after the meeting everyone walked out with their "chin up and their chest sticking out that we finally, finally got there."

The process to broker the deal was long and took a number of complicated turns that could have resulted in derailment any number of times.

The transaction was "an opportunity of a lifetime that proved to be a lot more difficult than anybody anticipated," said Warner. "It's been a journey."

Warner said the deal is a good example of a positive private and public partnership "that can really pay dividends" for the community. The treatment center has been a "huge part of the history of this community and now we're creating a new history and a new future," he said.

Knowing the conservative nature of the people behind MinnWest Technology and the risk they are taking in buying the WRTC is a sign of the company's confidence in success, said Warner. That, in turn, has helped generate community confidence in the project, he said.

When asked what MinnWest Technology would do if it was unable to find enough businesses to fill the technology campus, Sieben said such a possibility is "not acceptable" and is not an option they're considering. He said the company has not wavered from its original goal of creating a technology campus.

Sieben was reluctant to talk about the specifics of the last negotiating points that were settled other than to say that all the details had been agreed upon.

Waslaski said the final issues that were settled won't bring about any major changes in the deal.

He said one of the changes clarifies when Kandiyohi County could exercise its option to purchase about 30 acres of bare land from MinnWest Technology. If the land isn't used for technology business purposes, the county will have the option to buy the land. That option ends, however, when MinnWest Technology successfully adds 275 new, full-time jobs to the campus. The land will continue to be zoned for technology, said Waslaski. If MinnWest wants to use the land for something else in the future, the city would have to approve a change in zoning, said Waslaski.

Kandiyohi County Administrator Wayne Thompson was at Wednesday's meeting and has been very involved with the negotiations but was out of town Thursday afternoon.

City Administrator Mike Schmit, who was at the meeting, was also not available on Thursday to comment about finalizing the negotiations.

Wayne Larson, a Willmar attorney who's handling the legal documents for Kandiyohi County, did not return the Tribune's phone call.

After the papers are signed Jan. 16, Sieben said work will begin on renovating buildings for Nova-Tech, Epitopix and Life Science Innovations, which is the management group of Epitopix. He said about $1 million will be invested in each building. The company expects to move its offices to the campus by mid-year. After the company owns the land and buildings, efforts will be in full swing to find tenants, said Sieben.

Kandiyohi County will have permanent ownership of two buildings where the Prairie Lakes Youth Program, a juvenile detention center, is housed. It will own five other buildings that it will lease back to the state for existing human services programs. MinnWest Technology will have the option to purchase those five buildings in the future.

Thompson has said in the past that the bare land the county is buying from the state may be used for a new courthouse.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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