Blue Earth rejects land swap

BLUE EARTH – This time, it was Blue Earth City Council’s turn to vote down a proposed land swap with the Faribault County Fair Board.

The two entities have been going back and forth for months about exactly how much fairgrounds land the city will give up in exchange for almost 2 acres around the Green Giant statue just east of the fairgrounds.

The council had been talking about swapping 6 acres, including the grandstand and former go-kart track.

Late last year, the council voted to cut that plot nearly in half, giving the fair board the grandstand area but keeping the go-kart track, with plans to build a baseball field.

Last month, the fair board rejected that plan and submitted its own idea, which the council addressed Tuesday.

The fair board switched the council’s proposal, abandoning the grandstand area and instead asking for the go-kart track, with plans to use it for parking.

Most people were under the impression the fair board’s main objective was getting ahold of the grandstand so it could be improved to bring in more and larger events. The fact that the fair board is willing to give up the grandstand surprised more than one person.

“What prompted the fair board to change [its] mind about the grandstand?” Councilman Russ Erichsrud asked Daryl Murray of the fair board.

The board was willing to take ownership of the grandstand, Murray confirmed, but after discussing it, realized the expense and liability is more than they want.

“Has the dream of moving the grandstand died?” asked Councilman John Huisman, adding that owning the grandstand area would give the fair board the right to do what it wants. He doesn’t see the city being inclined to move the grandstand.

“It has not died, but it is a dream,” Murray said. “It has to be worked into the budget sometime down the road, if future fair boards would do that.”

Murray pointed out a 1999 agreement with the city gives the fair board the right to use the land for the two weeks of the fair.

“The majority of the fair board wants to get back to the original idea,” said Murray, adding that it comes down to a land swap or purchase.

“What is the [Green Giant] property worth if we wanted to buy it?” asked Councilman John Gartzke.

It would have to be appraised, Murray responded.

Mayor Rick Scholtes, however, is still thinking about a ballfield.

“What I see is no ballfield,” he said. “All these discussions going on for six months was to put in a ballfield.”

“The majority of the fair board was not willing to build a field or work with a field,” Murray said.

“If the council turns this down, where does the fair board go from here?” asked Councilman Glenn Gaylord.

“We fall back on the 1999 agreement,” Murray said.

With no deal on a land swap, from the city’s perspective it is time to look to the future.

“We can get multiple uses out of this section of land,” Scholtes said.

“Multiple use is much better than having it tied up all year round and just used two weeks for the fair,” said Councilman Dan Brod.

When the vote was called, it was 5-2 to turn down the fair board’s proposal, with council members Gartzke and Chelsey Haase dissenting.

Huisman proposed that the council and fair board continue to keep the talks open. Scholtes asked Erichsrud and Gaylord to continue serving on the subcommittee. They agreed.

In other business Tuesday, the council:

o Set a meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday for the bond sale on the public safety building.

o Heard a report from City Administrator Kathy Bailey, who said eight contractors have expressed an interest demolishing the Avalon building on Main Street.

Bailey also has been discussing demolition of the house at 914 E. First St. with the contractors. Because of a fire, the house is considered to be fully asbestos contaminated, so the work needs to be handled by a licensed contractor.