Fairview Site

Plans are in place for the former Fairview Elementary School to be demolished, making way for a Kwik Trip gas station and convenience store.

Tonya Burk

Wisconsin-based convenience store chain Kwik Trip is moving forward with plans to open a location at the Fairview Elementary site in Mora, with construction expected to begin in 2019.

On Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, Heidi Steinmetz of the Kanabec County Economic Development Authority invited Scott Teigen, Kwik Trip’s vice president of Real Estate, to tour Kanabec County. Kwik Trip, Inc. is based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and operates a chain of convenience stores throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Currently the company operates 161 stores in Minnesota.

Steinmetz said she initiated contact with Kwik Trip at the behest of Mora resident Maddie Amundson. “Maddie was very interested in attracting Kwik Trip to the county. She’d tried several times to contact them on her own,” Steinmetz said. “But a big part of what we do in economic development is getting to the right person. Rush City is also getting a new Kwik Trip, and city staff provided the contact information.”

Teigen and Steinmetz toured 15 sites in the county on Tuesday, Oct. 6 joined by Karen Amundson, president of the Mora Area Chamber of Commerce, and Lonnie Ness, owner/broker at RE/MAX Select in Mora. Teigen’s top choice was the Fairview Elementary School site, and his second choice was a three-parcel site at the corner of Maple Avenue East and Highway 65.

“We can never show interested business people just one site. We always try to present a number of options,” said Steinmetz. “Scott Teigen said he knew there was a site in Mora, but he just hadn’t found it yet. But before he even saw the 15 sites, he had already picked two.”

Teigen next submitted a letter of intent to Mora Public Schools, the owners of the 5.78-acre Fairview site. At the Oct. 26 school board meeting, Superintendent Craig Schultz said the letter of intent had been received. He added that the letter was not a binding document, and that contingencies would be kept confidential pending further developments. Kwik Trip followed with a purchase agreement; at its Dec. 21 meeting, the Board convened a Schoolhouse Closing Hearing and voted unanimously to accept Kwik Trip’s offer.

“We’ve come to terms,” Schultz said. “It’s been approved by our attorney and their attorney.” Kwik Trip’s offer to the School Board includes:

• A purchase price of $800,000, with $50,000 earnest money held in escrow.

• The School Board will be responsible for site demolition and removal of buildings, storage tanks and equipment at an estimated cost of $100,000; as well as removal of asbestos at a cost of $350,000.

• Realtor fees are estimated at $50,000, leaving the District with a profit of $300,000.

“I’m most excited about this being a done deal, because the property will be back on the tax rolls and reducing the taxpayer burden,” Steinmetz said. “The site will be turned over to the private market. And on the tour date Scott Teigen told us they wouldn’t need the entire 5.78 acres. So EDA will ask Kwik Trip to donate the excess acreage back to the city. We would then find a developer and work on building workforce housing, a real need in our county.”

One of the next steps will be to rezone the Fairview property. Currently it’s zoned as residential, said Mora Community Development Planner Beth Thorp, which is common for school buildings. “Before anything can happen with Kwik Trip, they’ll need to apply for rezoning. I’ve seen it go both ways, but it makes more sense for the buyer to take responsibility for the zoning issue. Most business purchase agreements are made contingent on applicable rezoning.”

“By Minnesota state law there will be a public hearing on the zoning request. The Mora Planning Commission conducts it, and each property owner within 350 feet of the site will receive notice of the hearing. The Planning Commission will make their recommendation to the Mora City Council, who will ultimately vote on the change,” Thorp said. “State law gives us 60 days from the date of application to make a decision.”

The Mora store won’t be on Kwik Trip’s construction schedule until 2019, said Steinmetz. “But owners of a couple of local convenience stores have already expressed concerns. I explained that the EDA wasn’t aggressively going after Kwik Trip; that it just happened the way it did. We get both sides; other business owners believe it will bring more traffic to their stores. I certainly hope established businesses will continue to survive and thrive,” she said.

“The EDA is trying to fulfill our mission to improve Mora’s economic condition though job creation, tax base growth and other means. We believe that this project will help us do that.”

Scott McKinney is a contributing writer for the Kanabec County Times.