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Brownsdale assisted living facility a step closer; County board agrees to abate 15 years of taxes

Several Brownsdale residents were pleased to see Diedra Burke and her fellow investors with Legacy Health Partners take a big step toward turning the former Brownsdale School into into an assisted living facility on Tuesday.

“I’ll see you in a couple years,” 85-year-old DuWayne Skov told Burke.

The county board unanimously approved Burke’s request to abate 15 years of property taxes — about $10,053 a year and at least $150,000 overall — as an incentive to help her move forward on the project after remodel costs far exceeded their original plan.

“I think it’s going to be a real boost to the town,” Commissioner Polly Glynn said.

Legacy Health Partners wants to renovate the building to include 32 studio and one-bedroom assisted living apartment units, ranging from about 450 to 600 square feet in space.

The school has been vacant since last March, when Hayfield Community Schools voted to close the school and move all students to Hayfield.

But renovation plans have already spiked from $1.5 million to about $3.5 million, largely due to roofing and plumbing challenges.

“Without the abatement in place, I’m not 100 percent sure we’d continue to pursue our plans,” Burke told the board. “It’d certainly make it much more difficult.”

Despite the challenges, Burke has been dedicated to finishing the project due to the backing of Brownsdale residents.

“We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support,” she said.

More than 20 people are on waiting list for units that are expected to be leased on a base rate of $2,195 a month.

Skov voiced his support Tuesday during a public hearing, saying the empty school isn’t bringing any money to town right now, and he doubts any other business will go there if this doesn’t move forward.

“I’m all for it; I’m just 100 percent behind it,” he said, adding he hopes to live there someday.

Gene Crabtree also voiced his support.

Burke said the support of the community has affected how she’s moved forward. For an additional $1.5 million, the investment group could tear down the school and build new, but she’s dedicated to keeping the school building due to the connections people have to it.

“I need to keep that small town feel,” she said.

Legacy Health Partners will look to house elderly waiver residents, who often receive state and county support for their housing. The region currently sees a shortage of such assisted living beds in the county and region, due to the swiftly growing Baby Boomer generation.

“There’s a local need for this type of bed,” County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said.

In an ideal world, the facility would open March 1, 2018, after an eight- to 12-month build — but Burke noted that will depend on when they get the building secured. Legacy Health Partners is negotiating loan terms with First Farmers & Merchant Bank of Austin and Brownsdale.

The city of Brownsdale approved a similar abatement with the stipulation that the facility be operational and licensed within 24 months of acquiring the site.

The county also approved a 24-month stipulation, and it also approved its abatement with conditions that require a certain number of jobs at the site based on its number of residents.

Burke also plans to seek an abatement from Hayfield Community Schools, but she said a few school board members expressed hesitation in initial talks since the district already sold the building to the city of Brownsdale for $1.

But the Mower County board was behind the plan and the jobs it would bring — about 13 full-time and 12 part-time employees.

“I think it’s a good deal for both the county and the city of Brownsdale,” Commissioner Tim Gabrielsson said.

Oscarson described the abatement as a short-term incentive that shifts the facility’s county share of taxes across the overall tax base, but then the facility would add to the tax base for its many years of business.