Institute expansion in the future?

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Hormel Institute could have future plans for development. -- Eric Johnson/

Rumors have been flying about a possible expansion project for the Hormel Institute. But according to Steve Rizzi, they’re not all true.

Rizzi, secretary for the Hormel Foundation and with the Austin law firm Adams Rizzi Sween, confirmed properties were purchased for the Institute. He said Leaning Tree LLC purchased 23 properties since September 2010 to “have some real estate available for future possibilities” for the Institute. Rizzi, also the secretary for Leaning Tree, said the partnership is not affiliated with the Hormel Institute, but they’re “looking to the future of Austin and property development that might be related to the Institute or research-like activities.”

Rizzi said the potential for the property is undetermined, but it could be green space, low-density housing or multi-family housing.

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Rizzi also didn’t rule out potential Institute expansion, although he said they are not currently looking in that direction.

“It could be used for other community purposes, or the potential for other entities to bring scientific research to Austin, and develop facilities in that area,” he added.

The properties, on 15th and 16th Avenue NE, directly east of the Institute, sold for an average of roughly $53,000, and total over $1.2 million.

The Hormel Institute tripled its size and doubled its number of faculty and staff in 2008, but Rizzi said anything new is still long-range and there is no timeline.

“We just determined we would start the acquisition process as determined from property to property,” he said. “It’s a totally volunteer process. If the owners of the property aren’t interested in selling their properties, they don’t have to.”

Rizzi said he has heard comments about unhappy property owners, something he said simply isn’t true.

“I’m not going to say that we haven’t talked to folks who aren’t willing to sell for the price we offered,” he said. “(But that’s the) end of the conversation. If they’re not interested in selling, they’re not interested in selling. We’re trying to be fair.”

Rizzi said because Leaning Tree doesn’t have any imminent plans for development, property owners who aren’t willing to sell don’t create an issue at this time.

“We’re simply acquiring properties as they become available or as folks are willing to sell them to us,” he said. “No one has been forced to sell their property. Of the properties that we have closed, every single one of them have been pleased with the transaction. Our feedback at the time of closing has been all positive.”

Craig Hoium, Austin director of community development, said within the last few months the city has also helped Leaning Tree in a guidance role, answering zoning, infrastructure and demolition questions. However, Hoium stressed they haven’t been actively or financially involved in the project or its acquisitions.

“It’s a private development,” he said. “If they have questions about zoning or infrastructure, we answer those questions to the best of our ability, just like we would for any other development.”

Rizzi added they have not had any discussions with Hormel Foods Corp.