ST. PETER — The former Whiskey River restaurant is back on the market.
Members of St. Peter's American Legion decided not to move into the larger building on Highway 99.
“It's far too big for our use and would be far too expensive for us to run,” said Legion member Shawn Schloesser.
Nicollet County Bank donated the former restaurant and bar to the William R. Whitty American Legion Post 37 late last year.
Legion leaders hired the Region Nine Development Commission to study whether the veterans service organization should move from its home on West Nassau Street. The study concluded the more than 9,000-square-foot former restaurant would be too costly for the Legion to update and operate.
Legion members met Monday night and made a nearly unanimous decision to sell the property and use the proceeds to modernize its existing building and programs.
Schloesser, chairman of the committee formed to lead the Whiskey River decision, and Post Cmdr. Dave Arpin said they will now turn their efforts toward making the post “more welcoming” to all community members.
Legion leadership said the Whiskey River gift was a blessing, but it also created dissonance among post membership over how to move forward.
Schloesser said he was relieved when the feasibility study yielded a firm recommendation that the Legion should not try to reopen the restaurant — at least not by itself.
“Although the former restaurant and bar could lend itself to be an attractive space, the downsides come with potentially debilitating potentials,” the study warned.
The Whiskey River building would need kitchen updates and other costly investments.
It would need to generate at least $1.3 million in annual sales just to break even on operating costs. And St. Peter already has a high number of bars and restaurants per capita, the study notes.
The Legion could divide the building and lease a portion to another entity to generate more revenue. But that would require an additional investment and there would be risk of not being able to attract a long-term tenant.
All but three of the nearly 100 Legion members who cast votes Monday favored selling the gifted property, Schloesser said.
The Region Nine Development Commission consulted with three real estate agents who guessed the property will sell for between $260,000 and $310,000.
The sale proceeds will be used to update the post's existing home and to add more family-friendly programs.
“We need to change with the times to make this place more welcoming to families and the young vets that are coming through,” Arpin said.
The building projects will include handicap-accessibility improvements and aesthetic changes that Arpin said would make the space less like a bar and more like a service organization.
The Legion leaders acknowledged it will take more than a refreshed building to keep the post prosperous.
“A fresh coat of paint isn't going to fix everything,” Schloesser said.
The post has met its goal of 266 members for this year, Arpin said. The post also hosts women's Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion groups; the commander did not know their membership numbers.
With an aging membership and increasing demands on members' time, the post will need to do more to attract replacement members and keep them engaged, Arpin and Schloesser said.
More youth-focused events and activities geared toward younger adult members are at the top of the list.
One such group is already forming. The Sons of the American Legion is organizing a motorcycle riding club that will hold rides for its members as well as community fundraisers.