Nonprofit aims to revive vacant buildings in rural Minnesota

Published 7:06 am Tuesday, July 3, 2018

BLUE EARTH, Minn.  — A Minnesota nonprofit is looking to breathe new life into Blue Earth’s downtown by reviving three long-vacant buildings in hopes of attracting artists and businesses.

The Rural Renaissance Project, a Mankato-based nonprofit, is aiming to raise $2.5 million for renovating the buildings known as Three Sisters. If they raise the money, the buildings will house a mix of small businesses, public arts and public events spaces.

Janie Hanson, the nonprofit’s co-founder, told the Mankato Free Press that she launched the project last year after she and other residents lamented vacant buildings in prime downtown spots that weren’t being used.

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Sale of the buildings was conditional on raising $1 million by this fall.

Early designs include plans for art and performance spaces, a restaurant, a coffee and wine bar, public dining rooms that can be used as classrooms and offices for start-up businesses.

The Rural Renaissance Project hopes to start construction this fall and open next summer, Hanson said.

The Bevcomm telecommunications company has donated $100,000 for the project, and a group of donors pledged $300,000.

Hanson said the organization will meet later this summer with businesses interested in renting spaces in the buildings. She said tenants paying rent will help support operating costs, concerts, classes and other programs.

The Three Sisters project is the first for the nonprofit, which is eyeing projects in other rural cities. Hanson said she hopes the project can serve as a model for how rural communities can creatively attract and retain artists and entrepreneurs.