People tend to care about history.
So as a member of the Yankton County Historical Society, I speak with many people who are excited about what the organization is attempting to do with the Mead Building on the historic South Dakota Human Services Center campus. By the end of this decade, it is hoped that grand structure will be home to a museum and cultural center.
But when it comes to the rest of the campus, people are more ambivalent. Some think uses could be found for the cluster of other buildings, while some believe the state would be best-served by tearing them down.
Well, if you haven’t thought much about the campus, I suggest you visit www.meadcampus.com. It will give you an idea of what could be done, in part by pointing out what has been done with similar facilities elsewhere.
I’ve spoken at length with Rich Jensen, a historic preservation consultant, and Paul Lowrie, who serves on the Mead Building Committee and will be leaving the Yankton City Commission later this month, about why they put together the website and why they are promoting the campus. They both stress they are not “pie-in-the-sky” historical preservationists. They believe the campus has economic value that would justify rehabilitation of many of the buildings. That’s why they have devoted a lot of time and energy to finding someone with the money and ideas to do something on the campus before the buildings are demolished, possibly later this year.
One of my favorite sections of their site is called “Myths.” It’s worth a look:
The buildings are in really bad shape!
One building with a wood-framed interior is in bad shape (the Lee Cottage). There are issues with the roof of the Calf Barn and with the roof of Edmunds. The buildings in our proposal are otherwise in sound condition, almost all of them built of concrete and steel. Many need attention to surfaces within the building. Some need to be tuckpointed, but these issues do not compromise the structural integrity of the building. Damage from animals is, in most cases, trivial. Portions of the Medical Institute were reroofed less than a decade ago.
The state’s been trying to unload these buildings for 20 years!
The Mickelson Center did not open until 1996, and a significant number of these buildings were still partially used by the state for over a decade after the Mickelson Center opened. The state has not made these buildings available by RFP (request for proposals) and the April 15th press release from the Governor’s Office represents the first official outline of how these buildings may be acquired by private investors and entrepreneurs. For several years, potential investors were told that state could not sell the buildings or surplus them.
This can’t be done!
The Pioneer Group in Topeka Kansas has successfully renovated over 30 buildings on the VA Campus in Leavenworth, Kansas. Many of them have been converted into modern residences. These buildings, many of them wood-framed, had been abandoned for decades. As compared to the Mead Campus, the Leavenworth project—which received no support from the VA—represented a far greater challenge.
The Lowry Air Force Base in Denver contained over 1,000 vacant buildings, 28 miles of obsolete streets and environmental issues. Despite these significant challenges, in its first decade of redevelopment, the Lowry project returned over $4 billion to the Denver and Aurora economies.
This can’t be done HERE!
Willmar, Minnesota was once home to a treatment hospital not unlike the Human Services Center in Yankton. In 2002, the state of Minnesota didn’t just move out of the old buildings on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center and into a new facility next door. They moved out, period. The city of Willmar faced the loss of 800 jobs.
Willmar’s population is about 18,000, and it is the county seat of Kandiyohi County, which has a population of about 42,000. It’s a little over an hour from St. Cloud and about two hours from Minneapolis. Yankton is about two hours from Omaha, and a little over an hour from Sioux Falls. Yankton’s population is about 14,000, and Yankton, Cedar and Knox counties have a total population of about 39,000.
Willmar’s economic development authority was provided funds by the state of Minnesota to market these buildings, and they were able to bring in two sizable local businesses, as well as the Minnwest Vo-tech campus. There are still some vacant buildings on the WRTC campus, but LSI and Nova-tech, the biotech firms that have relocated to the WRTC, have spent over $10 million renovating the campus.
That and much more can be found on the Mead Campus site. Again, I encourage you to take a look.
If you’re interested in South Dakota’s most recent plans for the campus, check out this recent story in the Press & Dakotan.