For immediate release
April 24, 2023
Media contact: Albert Lea City Planner Megan Boeck at 507-377-4349 or [email protected]
Blazing Star Landing in Albert Lea: From vacant and contaminated to developed and award-winning
The City of Albert Lea recently won a Community Impact Award for the Front Street Apartments project at the Blazing Star Landing. The award highlights the success of the $1.26 million cleanup of 3.4 acres that cleared the way for a private developer to build a $5.9 million apartment complex.
After sitting vacant for two decades because of soil contamination, a state grant made cleanup feasible with the city providing additional funding.
“This project is truly a story of rising from the ashes. A little over 20 years ago, a meat-processing plant caught fire and burned on this site. Hundreds of jobs went with it. Today, our community has turned around and now needs housing for hundreds of open jobs,” said City Planner Megan Boeck when receiving the award from Minnesota Brownfields, a non-profit that works to clean up contaminated sites for economic growth.
“Thankfully, a better story became a reality with the help of many partners, including the private developer who bought the land, built the apartments and looks to add more. We thank Unique Opportunities — the developer that came to Albert Lea and saw this property not for what it was but for what it could be.”
Based on this success, the city intends to keep going. At its meeting tonight, the Albert Lea City Council will vote on approving an agreement with Braun Intertec for additional cleanup at the Blazing Star Landing for approximately 96 more rental units. The State of Minnesota is providing a $465,345 grant toward the $870,000 cleanup. Testing the soil for contaminants is complete with expected remediation in late summer or early fall. The goal is to have the 4.5-acre site ready for housing construction in 2024.
From contaminated past to promising future
Soil contaminants at the first site included arsenic, selenium, cadmium and derivatives of diesel fuel, which can be harmful to humans at certain levels. The contamination stemmed from the site being used for meat-packing for 90 years and a dump that closed in 1974. Between 1951 and 1974, the property owner filled in part of the channel between Fountain and Albert Lea lakes with material that included ash from burning coal and potentially other hazardous materials.
The city acquired the property, which encompasses 33.29 acres total, in 2004 after a fire destroyed the meat-packing facility and it closed permanently. The city named the site Blazing Star Landing for the nearby state trail of the same name. While several developers expressed interest in the site over the years, the unknown extent of contamination and cost of cleanup were barriers to developing the property.
By 2020, the city faced a critical housing shortage, as documented by two studies. The cost of cleanup remained a barrier, until a grant of $944,000 from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) cleared the way.
Additional partners in the project included:
- The City of Albert Lea, which provided additional funding for the cleanup and tax increment financing for the development.
- The city retained Braun Intertec, an environmental engineering firm, for soil testing and cleanup planning.
- The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency provided cleanup oversight to ensure compliance with state rules.
City of Albert Lea Public Works Director Steven Jahnke, at left, and City Planner Megan Boeck, center, accept the Rescape Community Impact Award from Minnesota Brownfields for the Front Street Apartments project. At right is Travis Pennings of Braun Intertec. Other nominees for the award included projects in St. Paul, Falcon Heights and Minneapolis.
The Front Street Apartments provide affordable living opportunities within walking distance to Albert Lea’s Aquatic Center, Frank Hall Park and historic downtown while being located right along the Blazing Star State Trail. This first development at the Blazing Star Landing recently received an award from a non-profit that works to clean up contaminated sites for development.
- The city paid Larson Contracting of Lakes Mills to remove 26,100 tons of contaminated soil from the 3.4-acre site and raise the construction site by 2 feet with clean fill. The contaminated soil went to SKB Lansing Landfill near Austin for disposal.
- Unique Opportunities, a family-owned construction and development company based in Redwood Falls, Minn., bought the 4.3 acres and built a 48-unit apartment complex that opened in 2022. The site also includes one-story garages, sidewalks, a stormwater pond and green space.
Besides helping meet a need for rental housing, the apartment complex also increases Albert Lea’s tax base. Starting next year, Unique Opportunities will pay about $55,000 a year in property taxes.
The City of Albert Lea’s mission is to deliver exceptional services that enhance the quality of life for current and future generations.