On July 1, 2007, the city of Fergus Falls took over ownership of the Regional Treatment Center on North Union Avenue for the sum of $1.
The city still holds ownership of the giant campus 13 years later despite efforts to sell the property to more than a dozen developers.
A major snag in the city’s efforts to sell the campus has been the huge maintenance and renovation expenses connected with the buildings and grounds.
The state originally turned over the RTC to the city along with a $7.15 million grant for demolition or infrastructure maintenance. A $1.1 million grant followed. That nine-figure pool of money has been shrinking. More than $2 million of the grant money was spent from 2011 to 2016 for extending and replacing water and sewer utilities. Another $2.04 million was spent on tearing down the incinerator, a project that was originally estimated to cost only $500,000. Phase I ($1.4 million) and Phase II ($3.5 million) demolition work has been carried out in recent years.
“This is a state-sized project that is a local problem,” Fergus Falls City Administrator Andrew Bremseth said.
At the present time, a six-to-eight month effort to design a master plan for the RTC campus is in its infancy according to Bremseth. It is being led by the Collaborative Design Group (CDG) of Minneapolis, city staff members and a council-appointed steering committee. Ideas are being sought from community members through a survey.
According to Bremseth, the goal of the master plan will be a fair and practical use for the campus answering the question of what would make economic sense within the local market.
“Something that is realistic, something we can work with,” Bremseth said.
As the 2020s begin the city has around $53,000 of grant money left according to City finance director, Bill Sonmor.
Turning the campus into a development generating tax revenue for the city has been the intention of the city council according to Sonmor.
It has been estimated that shifting the financial load for maintenance to the taxpayers of Fergus Falls would mean a tax hike of 1.5 to 2%.
Yet there has also been a strong emotional attachment for many within the Friends of the Kirkbride group to the historic campus, dominated by impressive Kirkbride tower.
City leaders realize they will need to go back to the state if demolition is required but unless the campus is sold there will continue to be the annual maintenance costs nearly $100,000.
A 2015 engineering study estimated that taking down the main structure would cost $2.5 million.
“We share some of the same concerns which is why we’ve stayed ahead of the game with the money the state has provided,” Bremseth said. “We have to be prepared to go back down to the state Legislature.”