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EDA invites Prairieland Partners to discuss development proposal

A representative from Prairieland Partners, one of four developers interested in the old elementary school property, will visit the Morris City Council this month to discuss the details of their proposal.

After an extended discussion at a Morris Economic Development Authority work session on Thursday, July 25, members of the EDA agreed they were most interested in the proposal from the Minnetonka-based company and wanted to learn more.

Council member Kevin Wohlers opened the discussion with support for revisiting the proposal from Riley Bros. Properties of Morris. The proposal indicated the company would like to purchase the entire property and develop it primarily into housing to address "the most urgent and basic needs of our community."

The proposal mentions possible uses including cemetery expansion, student and faculty housing for the University of Minnesota, Morris, and housing for elderly residents.

"What excites me about this is they're a local company. I think they're approachable and I think they're willing to work with all of us," said Wohlers.

Wohlers admitted the single-page proposal from Riley Bros. Properties didn't have the "fluff and puff" or professional look of the other proposals, but said he would have a hard time giving the work to another developer when there is a local contractor in town interested in the property.

However, Wohlers said he was concerned about the start date Riley Bros. Properties included in their proposal, spring 2015, and whether the company had the capability to build what the council was interested in. Wohlers urged the EDA to set up a meeting with the company to see if they could "elaborate" on their proposal and plans for the property.

"I think we at least owe it to a local contractor to give them a second look," said Wohlers.

Council member Brian Solvie said that he liked looking locally too, but that the price Riley Bros. is offering doesn't compare to what Praireland Partners would offer. Solvie also noted that the moment the property is turned over to any contractor, the city loses control, regardless of whether the contractor is local.

Prairieland Partners is interested in purchasing between 9.5 and 12 acres of the property to use for a "mix of higher density housing types" for a variety of demographics.

The proposal includes about 50 to 60 units of post-secondary student housing on four or five acres along College Avenue; 20 units of senior assisted living on 2.5 to three acres along Seventh Street; and 24 to 30 units of affordable housing on three or four acres along Columbia Avenue. The company is not interested in the section of property that includes the old football field.

Council member Bill Storck said he agreed with Wohlers that Riley Bros. Properties should get another look.

"I know if they do something, they do it right," said Storck. "I feel a little closer to these guys because of all the things they've done."

City Manager Blaine Hill said he thought the proposal from Prairieland Partners was the best because they are going to come in and start building. The proposal also includes a request to negotiate exclusively with the city and time to conduct a market suitability study and community interviews to see what the needs are.

Riley Bros. Properties, on the other hand, would simply build houses or townhouses, Hill said -- "They don't do apartments, they don't do assisted living, they don't do affordable housing."

Council member Jeff Miller said the Prairieland Partners proposal maps out several housing needs the city already has including more decent rentals for college students and senior and affordable housing. Miller said the Riley Bros. Properties proposal was too vague.

"I just want a bang for the buck for the citizens of Morris and what we need in town," said Miller.

"We're here to get the tax base going, get something on that land and get it productive," agreed Solvie, who said he favored the proposals with a specific timeline for development.

Hill said he would invite Prairieland Partners to the next city council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 13 to discuss their proposal further.

The EDA had two other proposals on the table, one from Bear Paw Properties Development Company of Hutchinson and a new proposal from KC Companies of Pequot Lakes that arrived after the deadline indicated in the request for proposals.

Bear Paw Properties suggested a mix of senior living, assisted living and four-plexes for student housing.

KC Companies proposal includes a senior housing project on five acres of the property "emphasizing continuum of care services" within the community. These services include assisted living, memory care, hospice, respite, adult day care and independent living.