MONTEVIDEO - The former Coborn’s supermarket building in Montevideo could be re-opened as a community wellness center by early next year.

At a joint meeting on Monday, the Montevideo City Council and the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners approved a proposal by the Chippewa County Montevideo Hospital to acquire the vacant building for the wellness center project.

The votes by the two boards came after about 1 1/2 hours of input from citizens who spoke both in support and against the proposal.   

Council members unanimously supported going forward, while the commissioners split their vote 3-2. Commissioners Jeffrey Lopez and Matt Gilbertson were joined by chairman David Lieser in supporting the project, and Commissioners Dave Nordaune and Jim Dahlvang voted no. The two said they would like to give Montevideo business owner Kevin Wald the four weeks he sought to find a downtown location in place of the Coborn’s building.

Brian Lovdahl, CEO of CCMH, described the possible acquisition of the Coborn’s building as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” The nearly 35,000-square-foot building offers ample space, has important Minnesota Highway 7 visibility and access, and is located in close proximity to CCMH. That’s important not only for bringing together health services in one area, but also for plans by the hospital to move some provider-based health services now under the hospital’s roof into the new location. As long as those operations are within 250 yards of the hospital, the hospital can be reimbursed from Medicare for lease costs, which it does not receive now because they are located in-house. It could generate as much as $150,000 in annual revenues for the project, according to budget estimates.

Overall, the hospital is projecting an approximate $3,050,000 project to purchase and renovate the facility. The hospital has an agreement with Coborn’s to acquire the project for $750,000, and Coborn’s in turn will donate $200,000 back to the hospital, according to the hospital CEO.

Coborns closed the supermarket at the end of July 2018.

Lovdahl said roughly 18,000 square feet will be devoted to fitness activities including a child care drop-off. The remainder would be available for health service providers as well as a community meeting area.

These initial plans may see changes. Lovdahl said the hospital will be sending out a survey to residents to learn what they would like to see in the facility before developing final plans. While no commitments have been made, the city of Montevideo and the Montevideo Public Schools have also discussed the possibility of joining to build a new pool, which could be located immediately behind the Coborn’s building.

The loss of that building to private enterprise is what concerns Wald. He voiced support for a community wellness center, but asked for four weeks to possibly negotiate the purchase of comparable building space in the community’s downtown. That would keep the Coborn’s building available for possible commercial development, he explained. He called keeping the building for private business “the best chance for jobs.”

Wald also said he believed he could negotiate a possible property transaction in the downtown area that could save the project $1 million. He said the downtown commercial district extending to Adams Motors on U.S. Highway 212 represents 790 jobs and 98 different businesses for the community. Locating a wellness center there, with the potential of 1,000 members, would benefit it.

Citizens took turns going to the podium Monday to speak for and against the project. A number supported Wald’s proposal. They said people have had little time to consider the proposal, and they voiced concerns about job losses in the community, as well as taxes. Lovdahl said the budget proposed for the center would include payments in lieu of taxes to the county and city to compensate for removing the building from private ownership.

Others supported the CCMH proposal, citing the need to address health needs and attract new residents to the community. Maggie Kluver was among those who encouraged CCMH and the city and county to consider needs to replace the city and school pools and an area for preschool-age children to be physically active. “I just think we’re not thinking big enough,” said Kluver.

Lovdahl emphasized that the project would be funded and operated by the hospital without taxpayer support. The hospital has an approximate $18 million funded depreciation account which can be tapped for building and equipment costs.