UMR pays $2.66 million for VFW Post building

As it stands, the former Benny's R-Tic drive-in on the corner of Sixth Street Southwest and First Avenue would be demolished if the University of Minnesota Rochester acquires the VFW property.

Jay Furst, furst@postbulletin.com

The University of Minnesota Rochester paid $2.66 million on Thursday to buy the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1215 at 16 Sixth St. SW and the adjacent 24 Sixth St. ex-drive-in building.

The VFW post stands within the proposed campus area bordered by South Broadway, Sixth Street Southwest and First Avenue Southwest as well as Soldiers Field Park.

Olmsted County estimated the market value of the post property at $438,900 for 2016-2017.

UMR is using $3.1 million of the $14 million in local-option sales tax money earmarked for the creation of a 10-acre college campus at the edge of downtown. Chief of staff Jay Hesley explained the difference between the price and the sales tax amount — $434,000 — will be used to cover "closing costs and other related expenses."

This is same process UMR used when acquiring and demolishing other buildings within the proposed campus. The university pays directly for the property or demolition and then it is reimbursed with the sales tax money by the city.

Now that the post deal is done, the VFW is expected to wrap up its purchase of the former Golden Corral/Gorilla's Bar and Grill building at 2775 43rd Ave. NW. The veterans organization previously signed an agreement to acquire the about 10,000-square-foot ex-restaurant to renovate it to serve as a future new home for the group.

Meanwhile, the 7,900-square-foot VFW and the small 82-year-old drive-in will be demolished or possibly moved to clear the way for UMR's future campus. However, it still might be years before any UMR buildings are constructed on the site.

Since 2010, the university slowly has been acquiring and clearing properties in the area, including two former fast-food restaurants, the 4th Street Boxing Gym, the former KTTC-TV station building, small office buildings and a halal grocery store.

The university still has several properties to acquire, including Scharf Auto Supply at 620 First Ave. SW, the former Hentges Glass Co., the Running Room store and the Point of View condominiums at 728 First Ave. SW.

While acquiring the pieces of land needed for the proposed campus, UMR will continue to occupy the top two floors of the University Square mall and several floors in the 318 Commons public-private complex. UMR also recently announced its intentions to build classrooms and labs in Destination Medical Center's first building in the Discovery Square subdistrict. Mortenson, the developers of the complex to be anchored by Mayo Clinic as a tenant, are breaking ground on that downtown project on Thursday.