Worthington enacts interim ordinance regarding retail property proposed purchase

WORTHINGTON – Worthington District 518 has indicated an interest in purchasing the old Shopko property along I-90 in Worthington, an idea Mayor Mike Kuhle is speaking out against.

A letter he wrote states the property is arguably the best retail location in the city, and Kuhle said the building and frontage needs more time to be developed for commercial and retail opportunities.

During a Worthington City Council meeting Monday night, the issue became contentious, with Councilor Chad Cummings stating the city needs more time to find out what the financial impact to the community would be if the property came off the tax rolls.

Cummings said he has had a dozen phone calls from citizens and school board members and asked that the council enact an interim ordinance that gives the city more time to look into the tax implications.

At the heart of the issue is what the school district needs to be able use the building for community education – a conditional use permit that would have to be approved by the city council. The district has indicated they would like to use the old Shopko building for their community education site, and likely move the district offices to that location also.

Councilor Alan Oberloh said he spoke with Superintendent John Landgaard about the possibility of saving the out lots for retail use. He stated Landgaard didn’t think the school board would have a problem with it. In that case, Oberloh said, he supports the idea of the school purchasing the property 100 percent.

His statement was supported by Councilor Amy Ernst, who said if someone was willing to purchase the building, and make it more attractive and welcoming, it would be better than having it sitting there as a blight on the city when people drove into Worthington.

She also pointed out that a request for a permit hasn’t been brought to the city or the planning commission.

Landgaard, who attended the Monday night meeting, said he had only talked to a few of the school board members about the out lots.

In the letter written by Kuhle and sent out to local media moments before the Monday night meeting, Kuhle stated the school district already owns other property, and could build for community ed near Prairie Elementary. He also states that the former West Elementary, where community ed is currently housed, looks the same as it did 35 years ago. He asserts his opinion that the Shopko property should be preserved for retail, asking if the school needs another facility that would further erode the tax base in Worthington.

The interim ordinance passed on a 3-2 vote, with City Administrator Steve Robinson stating he would have to look into legalities of that vote later, as he as unsure if a majority vote was needed. Ernst and Oberloh voted against the ordinance.

The school board is scheduled to hold a special meeting this morning, with the agenda including a discussion about a community ed facility.

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