Fergus Falls plans to demolish old state mental hospital
FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — After more than a decade of tossing around ideas of what to do with the historic mental hospital campus here, city leaders have unanimously decided to seek state funding for demolition.
If the city is successful in requesting $8.9 million of the state's bonding bill, the iconic, vacant tower building of Kirkbride Asylum, also known as the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, would be the only city-owned structure left standing.
"It's a difficult situation, but it's one that's necessary," said Mayor Ben Schierer.
Fergus Falls will find out sometime in May at the end of the legislative session if the city can move forward with demolition following the Fergus Falls City Council's 7-0 vote Tuesday, Jan. 16, to request funding.
Schierer said the "phased deconstruction" of Kirkbride would take years. Throughout the process, the city would entertain any development proposals. He said he had "very mixed feelings" about demolition and was originally in favor of saving three of Kirkbride's towers.
There have been many efforts to preserve the historic building ranging from flash mobs meant to raise awareness to plans of turning the former asylum into a $40 million complex with restaurants and a boutique hotel. That plan fell through in 2015.
"To refurbish the whole campus, you're looking at $60 to $80 million, and there's no way anybody is going to come into Fergus Falls and spend that kind of money and make a profit on it anytime soon," Council Member Jim Fish said. "We're at the point where we need to take the buildings down."
Kirkbride was first built in the 1890s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office will have to sign off on any plans.
The city of Fergus Falls took ownership of the property in 2007 after it became vacant in 2005. Parts of the property are owned by Otter Tail County for its Government Services Center. Campus Development Group, which is affiliated with Fargo-based real estate developer Jeff Schlossman, opened apartments in 2015 in two renovated buildings. Only city-owned buildings are included in future demolition plans.
City Administrator Andrew Bremseth said the city previously got $1.9 million in bonds to close the campus tunnels and tear down three buildings as part of the first phase of Kirkbride's deconstruction.
Bids for that first phase will be opened Thursday, Jan. 18, and work is expected to start after a contract is awarded in February, Bremseth said.