Updated: September 27, 2021 06:42 PM
Created: September 27, 2021 11:59 AM
The state of Minnesota is on the verge of selling a refrigerated warehouse it bought in the early days of the pandemic as a potential backup morgue for COVID victims. It ended up never being needed for that purpose and instead served for several months as a warehouse for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other COVID-related materials. It now sits empty.
The St. Paul Port Authority board is preparing to vote Tuesday on taking the warehouse off the state's hands for $5.65 million. The Port Authority hopes to find a buyer that will bring jobs to the city.
"The state doesn't need the space anymore," said Andrea Novak, senior vice president of the St. Paul Port Authority. "It is part of one of the St. Paul Port Authority's business centers and it gives us the opportunity to control the outcome."
The outcome they'd like to see is a private business that will employ 70 to 100 workers and add to the city's tax base.
"We're actually probably going to look at the jobs before the financial offer, but at the same time we don't anticipate losing our financial resources with this transaction," Novak told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Monday.
The state paid $5,475,000 for the building in 2020 and has put another $214,000 into it, according to the Minnesota Department of Administration.
The St. Paul Port Authority will vote Tuesday on making an offer of $5,650,000, the appraised value of the building and nearly five acres of land.
"We're playing a game of hot potato with this building that really nobody wanted before," said Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, who's among several Republican lawmakers who have harshly criticized the Walz administration for buying the building. "So they're throwing the hot potato now to the St. Paul Port Authority who in their own documents says they are 'hopeful' that they can buy a buyer for it."
At the time of the state's purchase, Gov. Tim Walz's administration expressed worries that mortuaries could be swamped with victims. They were working with projections that 29,000 Minnesotans might die of COVID over the first 12 months of the pandemic. So far, in 18 months, the state has seen just over 8,000 deaths. The "temporary" morgue would have held 5,100 bodies.
In a statement from Curt Yoakum, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Administration, he explained the state's decision to seek a buyer for the building:
"The facility served the state's pandemic response by storing critical personal protective equipment and other response related supplies. Those supplies have since been distributed or relocated. Additionally, the refrigerated facility provided the option for emergency temporary cold storage in the event that local and hospital mortuaries became overwhelmed. Fortunately, that was not necessary and the State of Minnesota no longer has a need for the facility. As required by state law, the department has made the facility available for purchase at the market appraised value of $5.65 million. The building was purchased by the state for $5.5 million."
To see the full filing from the St. Paul Port Authority, click here.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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