By Dan Linehan
---- — NORTH MANKATO — The Port Authority approved two downtown grants worth about $17,200 on Wednesday and lent its informal support to a plan to fill its vacancies with city councilors.
The building at 231 Belgrade Ave., which formerly housed Mutch Northside Hardware, will receive a grant of $16,550 for renovations. The $49,650 project includes upgrades to heating and cooling systems, electrical systems, doors, windows and brickwork.
David Schooff, a part owner of the building, told the Port Authority that he and his partners are looking to fix up the old building and lease it to a nonprofit, which he said he couldn’t name.
“We’re not looking to make a ton of money,” he said.
Schooff said they had a request from a retail shop that sells electronic cigarettes but turned it down because it didn’t fit their vision for the building.
Port Authority Member Dave Arnold said this is the exact sort of project the grant program was created for. It passed unanimously.
John Harrenstein, executive vice president of the Port Authority and city administrator, told the commissioners they could specify the sort of tenants that would be allowed in the building. The owners are receiving taxpayer money, and the taxpayers may have expectations that the building's future use benefits the downtown.
Port Authority Member Billy Steiner, also a city councilman, said he’d “hate to tie their hands,” though, and Arnold said he trusted Schooff.
The Port Authority also approved a $635 grant for Sharon’s Craft-N-Floral Center, at 241 Belgrade Ave., to replace three vintage windows facing Belgrade Avenue. But they added a condition: The building’s owners will have to present a plan for improving its storefront before they get the money.
It’s right in the core of the downtown, Mayor Mark Dehen said, "and it needs some TLC on the outside."
Dehen suggested adding this condition in part because the building has received Port Authority grants in the past, totaling $5,116.
The Port Authority also appeared to support a plan to put all five City Council members on the seven-member Port Authority, though it did not vote on the measure.
“I think it’s wonderful to have the whole City Council on the Port Authority,” Arnold said. Port Authority Member Greg Abbott also said he liked the idea.
Two residents would still be able to lend their expertise to the body, and the addition of council members is seen as a boon to the commission’s transparency.
Harrenstein asked the commission about its desires for the future of the grant program, which is funded this year by $20,000 in sales tax money. The city is in the midst of rewriting its economic development policies.
No one on the committee suggested that the grant program should end, so it appears likely to continue.
In a related issue, the city and Port Authority have put four documents online related to the ongoing discussions, including a summary of a survey given to a working group of 32 residents.
The documents are at www.northmankato.com. From there, place the cursor over “economic development,” then click “economic development policies.”