The city of Merrill will consider acquisition of the former Anson & Gilkey property for redevelopment purposes during a joint meeting of the Committee of the Whole and Redevelopment Authority Saturday.

Development & Leasing Corp. (D&L) has donated the riverfront property to the River District Development Foundation of Merrill for future construction of a hiking and biking trail. Because the foundation can’t own property, the foundation would transfer ownership of the land to the city, similar to the way the former railroad right-of-way purchase was handled last year. The foundation would retain an easement along the river and the balance of the property would be marketed by the city for redevelopment.

“This will work out well for everybody,” said Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson. “There are no losers here. We’re getting rid of blight and get a property to be redeveloped. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we can’t turn down.”

The 15-acre property is located at the south end of Kyes Street, east of the Center Avenue bridge. Foundation president Gene Bebel said the group has no immediate plans to construct the trial in that direction, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to secure an easement through that property.
“We will not be be working on the trail here for at least a couple of years,” Bebel said. “The donation is very much appreciated. D&L is giving up 15 acres of riverfront.”

Efforts are currently underway by the foundation to construct the River Bend Trail to the west of the Center Avenue bridge to ultimately connect downtown to Council Grounds State Park.

Upon acquisition, the city will clear all remaining buildings from the property. Private donors have come forward to fund that work. Bebel stressed that no money already donated toward the westward construction of the trail will be used for the D&L site.
“We will pay for the work on the site with money specifically donated for that,” he said.

The city has placed demolition orders on several buildings on the property. D&L has already removed some of the buildings by deconstruction and salvage of timber and other useful items. They have also handled asbestos abatement and removed a small area of contaminated soil. The city will be getting a property with a clean bill of environmental health, Bebel said.
“All asbestos and environmental concerns have been removed,” Bebel said. “We have a certificate of clearance from the DNR.”

By taking ownership of the property, the city would be losing $6,000 per year in tax revenue. To make that up, the city and the foundation will be splitting the $12,000 annual rent generated by a cell phone transmitter located on the D&L property.

Johnson said the city will begin to market the property immediately, ideally finding a developer who will put it back to industrial use. All proceeds from the sale of the property will go to the foundation for future construction and maintenance of the trail. When the property is sold and back on the tax roll, the foundation would also get a greater portion or all of the cell tower revenue.
“The city is not going to make any money off the property,” Johnson said. “Where we will make money is through the increased tax base of having that property redeveloped.

Following consideration by the Committee of the Whole Saturday, the proposal would go to the City Council for approval at its May 13 meeting.