A majority of area respondents say they agree with the city of North Mankato’s plans for the Norwood Inn site, according to a Free Press online question.
Out of 245 total respondents, 142 voters — about 58% — say they support the city of North Mankato’s plan to use the Norwood Inn site as temporary housing for pork plant workers. Another 103 disagreed.
The Norwood Inn, formerly the Best Western in North Mankato, will for the next 24 months house 150 to 200 workers from the Windom Prime Pork processing plant.
The goal for the city is to have the North Mankato Port Authority buy the property for $3.25 million and market it for redevelopment after it is used for housing for up to two years.
Earlier this month, the Port Authority and the City Council approved entering into a legal agreement with HyLife Foods that would allow for the housing even though it violates zoning ordinances. HyLife has a majority interest in Prime Pork.
Twin Cities Lodging purchased the former Best Western in 2016. Last year the company began marketing the property for sale with an asking price of $4 million.
Late last year HyLife Foods entered into a lease agreement with Twin Cities Lodging and contacted the city to determine the necessary local zoning requirements to convert the Norwood Inn into temporary corporate housing for workers who would be bussed to the plant in Windom.
The city determined the use of the building would be a violation of its zoning code because it would be characterized as multi-family housing due to the uninterrupted stays. HyLife requested additional considerations be made to recognize the workforce shortage in the agricultural community serving the region.
HyLife also suggested the company would seek to comply with the local zoning ordinance by housing the workers at the facility for six nights a week and one night elsewhere. The city said that solution would not be in the best interest of the workers, the company or the city.
While the agreement will help HyLife with temporary housing needs, the agreement also will allow the city — via the Port Authority which is made up of the council and two residents — to take control of the the property and market it for redevelopment. The city’s goal is the have the property returned to a quality hotel.
The Free Press online question, sent out Friday, asked, “Do you support North Mankato’s plans to use the Norwood Inn site as housing for plant workers?”
There were two options to answer, “yes” or “no.”
Commenters were divided on the city’s actions. While some praised the city’s efforts to reuse a rundown site, others questioned why there weren’t more public hearings on the topic.
“This property has been a problem for several years and it will not get any better with the current ownership,” Harry Jenness wrote. “I think the agreement that the city has put together protects the taxpayers and hopefully a new owner will be found to either rehab the property or demolish it and start over. It is a big eyesore on Highway 169.”
Carol Pavel wrote, “Can’t imagine 150 to 200 people sleeping in that building. What are they going to be doing when not working or sleeping?”
John Baker wrote, “I think this is a wonderful plan! Just like the recent TV commercials ... ‘making lemonade out of lemons!’ Great work and congratulations to the city of North Mankato staff/admin/council. However, this brings to light the fact that the processing plant can not find enough workers who already live in the U.S. and so they have to bring in workers from other countries. This means that the processing plant is not paying their workers a high enough wage and it also means that the U.S. government needs to stop paying the U.S. citizens and non-citizens to not work.”
Jerry Groebner wrote, “The city establishes zoning regulations for a reason. Occasionally minor adjustments need to be made but an adjustment of this nature is not a minor adjustment. This kind of change should have required public hearings but I don’t believe that was mentioned in the article. If hearings were held and residents participated, then the action may be justified.”