The downtown St. Cloud block housing City Hall is poised to become a Bremer Bank and drive-through retail space.
St. Cloud's Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to recommend approval of a developer's plans to raze the current City Hall and build a two-story office building, as well as a parcel on the western side of the building for a cafe or restaurant.
"We do that think this is a good balance between the commercial intent and the historic preservation intent that we've always had on the Fifth Avenue corridor," said Matt Glaesman, community development director for St. Cloud, at the planning commission meeting.
Hwy. 23 — also known as Division Street — is a main east/west thoroughfare from Hwy. 10 to Hwy. 15 and Waite Park. Fifth Avenue connects St. Cloud's downtown to St. Cloud State University. Redevelopment in recent years has focused on creating a corridor where people can live, work, shop, dine and find entertainment.
"We were able to partner with someone to sell our current location and we've been working on this for a while," said Tom Rickers, Bremer's executive vice president of consumer banking and mortgage. "As this came open — obviously it's a downtown, prominent, historic site — we thought it would be a great location for our customers and employees."
If the development plans are approved by the St. Cloud City Council at an upcoming meeting, Bremer Bank will move its downtown St. Cloud branch to the new site, which is being dubbed Highbanks Plaza. Bank branches on the west side of St. Cloud and in nearby Rice are remaining open, although some services are being consolidated at the new site.
"We're just excited to stay in downtown in a historic site [and] build a facility that will really accommodate our customers, our employees and our community for a very long time," Rickers said. "We designed our plans around being forward-thinking around where banking is going."
The City Hall block, just two blocks west of the Mississippi River, is historic: It housed the city's first public high school, Union Public School, before Technical High School opened in 1917.
The school district erected the current City Hall building for a junior high circa 1930. When students moved from that building to South Junior High in the early 1960s, the building became an elementary school.
Beth Becker, 60, attended Central elementary. This year, she moved back into the house she grew up in, which is a few blocks from City Hall.
"We lived in this neighborhood because my dad taught at St. Cloud State, which is just a few blocks to our south. So he could walk. He taught there for over 30 years and my parents lived in this house for over 30 years," she said.
Becker's house, built in 1926, was a student rental for about 20 years, but she was able to buy back the family home because many landlords in the area are divesting themselves of older homes due to declining student enrollment, she said.
The area is seeing a sort of renaissance with walking trails, churches and mosques, and a growing number of houses returning to single-family use.
"It's becoming a family neighborhood again," Becker said.
The city purchased its current building in the mid-1980s. Now the city is in the midst of a $10.37 million project to renovate the historic 1917 and 1938 sections of Technical High School for use as City Hall. The city plans to vacate the current City Hall by the end of the year. Frauenshuh Commercial Real Estate is redeveloping the site.
"I am definitely sad to see it go. I was glad that it avoided the wrecking ball a couple of times — when it became City Hall and so forth," Becker said. "But at the same time, I do appreciate the fact that today's needs and spaces are different."
Becker and Mary Mathews, who has lived near City Hall for almost 50 years, said they appreciate the effort the city and developer have put into the design, which they see as a nod to the historic nature of the block.
"It's precisely this design that is so appealing to us," Mathews said at the meeting. "It's brick. It's granite. It's modern but it's a very discreet building."
Jenny Berg • 612-673-7299