by Dennis Dalman
At long last, after more than 10 years, it’s a done deal: The City of Sartell now owns the large site of the former Verso paper mill.
As part of that agreement, Sartell also now owns property on Fourth Avenue S., which was owned by the paper mill and part of it used as a landfill by the mill.
The closing on those properties took place June 14 and was announced in a press release from Nikki Sweeter, Sartell’s engagement director.
The mill site is 51 acres of land; the property along Fourth Avenue S. is 167 acres. Both of those properties will be held by the Sartell Economic Development Authority. The city paid $960,000 in cash for those two properties.
Sweeter noted the City of Sartell has been in contact with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency about options for the landfill site, but the city plans eventually to plat that land and sell it to recoup the cost of purchasing it.
The Verso paper-making mill was shut down permanently in 2012 after an explosion and fire in the plant on Memorial Day took the life of one worker and caused extensive damage to the facility. The plant’s closing was an “End of an Era” moment because for more than 100 years a paper mill, under various ownerships and changes, had operated on that site as an economic bedrock for the city and jobs for many people in Sartell and beyond.
The site was purchased by a Canadian-based company, American Iron and Metal, which completed a demolition of the vast property and sold salvageable materials for recycling and other uses.
In 2021, AIM and the City of Sartell drew up a tentative purchase agreement, which was finalized June 14, 2023, transferring all of the properties to city ownership.
Since then, many in Sartell, including city officials, wondered how that big empty site could be used should the city ever acquire the property.
Last year, the city hired private consultant Anita Archambeau, who had for years served as Sartell’s community-development director until a few years ago she resigned to take a job in another state.
Archambeau was tasked with developing a Master Plan and Redevelopment Strategy for the mill property to prepare for the city taking ownership of it.
The plan/strategy Archambeau developed called for extensive public input on ideas for site redevelopment, including a citywide survey. Respondents to that survey indicated they would like riverside recreational facilities/activities on the site, as well as attractive boutique-type specialty shops, restaurants, space for offices and perhaps higher-density residential apartment buildings.
Other aspects of the master plan include an exploration of possible land uses and constraints, the drafting of concept plans, a plan finalization, possible adoption of the plans by the city council, marketing of available redevelopment sites and – finally, if those things come to fruition, construction and related developments.
Those strategies will be discussed at upcoming city-council meetings, starting at the July 10 meeting. A plan adoption could be approved by the council as soon as its Oct. 9 meeting. Marketing of the site could begin on or near Oct. 16.
To find out more about the paper-mill project and a timeline, visit the Sartell city website and then click on a box that says “Projects and Performance.” On that site, visitors can sign up to receive email updates of project announcements.
The press release of June 14 states this:
“The City of Sartell is excited to embark on the redevelopment of such a crucial piece of Sartell’s history, and we cannot wait to take our residences and businesses along with us.”
Any questions about the paper-mill project can be addressed to Sartell City Administrator Anna Gruber at firstname.lastname@example.org.