Before the August 14 meeting, the Rushford, Minn., city council held a closed session to discuss the possibility of purchasing the former Farmers Win site in downtown Rushford. The company has had a lengthy back-and-forth with the city. The site remains unsold since the company’s decision to stop utilizing the downtown site and move services to the South Fork site, just south of the Root River in Rushford Village. In early 2020, the community saw the dismantling of the large grain bins and elevator building.
The Economic Development Authority (EDA) first discussed the possibility of purchasing the site, which also sits along the Root River State Trail, in the fall of 2020. The city previously discussed various options regarding stages of demolition, costs, unknown issues, potential uses for the site, and community planning needed for appropriate future use.
The city’s original offer specified the purchase price, conditions of demolition, and the requirement of a clean site provided. Farmers WIn provided a counteroffer, which it rescinded due to a competing offer.
The council discussed an agreement again in the fall of 2022. A recap provided by the city noted that Farmers Win would allow the city to proceed with environmental studies but wanted to continue advertising to sell the parcel in “as is” condition. Following a discussion with the city attorney, the council offered an agreement, including the right of first refusal. The city offered $250,000, but the price was to be negotiated lower and with different terms, depending on what environmental studies showed.
Last December, Farmers Win rejected that offer, issuing a counteroffer of $75,000 (30%) down to consider it. The council opted to decline the counteroffer and withdraw its original proposal.
At an Economic Development Authority meeting this July, Farmers Win representatives indicated they wanted the city to make an offer with no environmental contingencies. The EDA took no action but discussed the matter with the council in the August 14 closed session meeting.
The council voted 4:1, with Councilor Andrew Linder opposed, making a new offer to Farmers WIN to purchase the site for $225,000 without contingency on environmental issues. However, City Clerk Kathy Zacher was quick to make that the city will proceed with all environmental studies on its own if the purchase agreement goes through.
“To inform the public, we’re not just going to buy the building and be done with it. It’s a plan you have discussed,” Zacher added.
“The environmental due diligence is on us,” said Councilor Leigh Volkman.
“We as a city entity will be doing the environ-mental. We, as a council, will be taking that into consid-eration,” echoed Mayor Terri Benson.
In other news, the council voted unanimously to discharge the 2013 EDA loan of $145,000 made to Rushford Hypersonic/Daniel Fox. The company, founded in 2007, sought to utilize the patented Hypersonic Plasma Particle Deposition (HPPD) and focused particle beam process. Loans provided by the EDA at the time were eventually defaulted on. While initially exciting for the area, the company yielded no tangible, marketable products. The city has spent time and money trying to recover its interests through legal means. It’s now clear there are no assets for the business, which has been defunct for some time.
While several on the council noted frustration in writing off any monetary recovery, changes are being made to the EDA revolving loan program to limit loans and prevent it from happening again, including working with banks to ensure there is an ability to repay loans.
“We take a second position on nothing. It’s really hard to get something,” said Volkman. “When you give out a loan and have no standings to claw back that money, you really have nothing in the future.
“Smoke and mirrors,” he added. “Keep in mind how long ago this was since this happened. This money was long gone.”
“Part of business is risk, and they took a risk hoping that something would come of it. There was a lot of hoopla regarding it, not just here in Rushford,” recalled Benson.
“Some of these EDA things that happened then were almost to the point of venture capitalism. That’s not money that’s guaranteed to come back. If it works, you’ll make a lot back. If it doesn’t work, you’re not even expecting it to come back. You can’t look at it like you were expecting it to come back when you were taking an astronomical risk that had a 10% chance of coming back,” continued Volkman.
“There were a lot of high-powered people that were supportive of this. It was a really exciting venture for the future. But it never materialized,” said Zacher.
“There were other areas where it worked, and we were hoping to get a piece of the pie,” added Benson.
Also at the meeting was new Rushford Peterson Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Stephanie Eggert. A resident for 37 years, Eggert is hitting the ground running, reaching out to businesses and working on the work done previously by outgoing Director Jen Hengel.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, September 11, at 6:30 p.m. at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.