MADELIA — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar told Madelia officials and business owners Friday that the federal government has a role to play in helping the city recover from the Feb. 3 fire that wiped out most of a block of downtown.
“It’s completely unbelievable,” the Minnesota Democrat said during a roundtable with city, state and federal officials.
She asked if the nine businesses in seven buildings destroyed or damaged plan to rebuild.
“The definitely want to be back on Main Street as much as we can get them,” said Karla Angus, executive director of Madelia Area Chamber of Commerce.
State Rep. Tony Cornish of Vernon Center said three owners had told him they were getting plans drawn up for a new building.
“They want to do it as a group and they’re ready to start,” the Republican lawmaker said. “But they want to be confident that they’re going to have an end product.”
The property owners are interested in tax abatement to make that construction possible and keep rents low enough to bring back the businesses that were there.
Mayor Mike Grote said the city needs help in cleaning the site up, closing a sewer main that is allowing water — and pollutants from the fire scene — to leak into the sanitary sewer system, and rebuilding infrastructure, including adding fire-suppression lines.
“If the city were able to give them a sterile site and we got it back to grade, that would speed up the whole process,” he said.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development staff outlined several business grant and loan programs, one of which would be a revolving loan program set up through the city. All that program would require is letters of interest from any business in the city with an application due March 31.
“That can be an ongoing asset to the community,” said Colleen Landkamer, state director for USDA Rural Development
USDA has programs for water and wastewater as well.
After a tour of the fire site, Klobuchar said USDA will likely be the main federal partner in the recovery.
“We will be working as a team at the federal, state and local level,” she said. “We want the businesses and employees to know we’re here to support Madelia.”
Tim Penny, CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, told Klobuchar during the meeting the foundation has brought in more than $250,000 for its business recovery fund. Foundation staff have been meeting with business owners this week and some businesses will begin getting grants as early as next week, Penny said.
Region Nine Development Commission has collected at least $75,000 so far in its nonprofit arm that will be disbursed to businesses and employees of harmed businesses through the local Madelia Strong Inc. Executive Director Nicole Griensewic Mickelson said the commission projects between $400,000 and $1.3 million in lost wages and business.
They mentioned local fundraisers and some of the donors; Klobuchar said she was impressed.
“It’s like a modern-day barn raising. It’s encouraging to see,” she said. “But it’s still so hard.”