Developments on former Casey's lot stalled, stirring criticism among downtown business owners
It’s been a year since the Mitchell Area Development Corporation sold a corner lot in downtown Mitchell that many consider to be prime real estate, but little has happened at the site.
While the lack of action at the vacant 100 by 75 foot lot that sits on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Main Street has drawn skeptics in recent months, the extremely low price tag that the land sold for has sparked more criticism among several nearby business owners. In early August 2019, the MADC sold the piece of land — which was the former location of a Casey’s General Store — for $900.80 to Matt Doerr. At the time of the sale, the lot was valued at $25,750, which meant the land was sold for roughly 96% less than its value.
Megan Suarez, owner of Adorn Boutique on Main Street, is one nearby business owner who criticized the price tag of the lot. For Suarez, the MADC’s decision to sell the lot for $900.80 was “unfair.”
“I think it’s unfair to other business owners in the community, and it’s also unfair to the city because a $25,000 lot in that nice of an area would have been a great asset to the city that could have helped a lot of people,” Suarez said.
Doerr, a Mitchell resident and treasurer for the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce board, purchased the land with the initial goal of redeveloping the lot and constructing a building. Over the past year, Doerr was in the process of getting design work completed for a building to be constructed on the corner lot. But after COVID-19 swept in, bringing with it an economic downturn, Doerr said it halted the project plan.
“We had preliminary designs drawn up with a local architect earlier this year for a building that could provide a platform for a handful of business opportunities,” Doerr said. “However, COVID-19 has halted our plans and caused us to re-evaluate.”
Rather than seeing the lot sit empty every day, Doerr has been renting the area to local food trucks while he maps out future development plans for the land.
“We do not intend for the lot to be a long-term food truck parking space, and are utilizing it to provide an opportunity to support small business instead of the lot sitting vacant,” he said.
However, the deed that the land purchase came with had an extensive list of restrictions set by Casey’s, mainly the stipulation that the property can’t house a business that would directly compete with Casey’s for the next 15 years. Therefore, Doerr contacted Casey’s and received permission to allow food trucks to do business on the lot, which he said was given the green light.
Leading up to the MADC selling the lot to Doerr, the city of Mitchell purchased the land from Casey’s for $1 in late 2018. Casey's and the city mutually agreed on the sale with the conditions of the non-compete restrictions. Following the purchase, the city transferred the land over to the MADC, allowing the nonprofit organization to what's intended to and explore redevelopment opportunities. Ultimately, selling the lot at a low price was the MADC’s outcome.
Mark Vaux, the former executive director of the MADC and Chamber of Commerce, was the top leader of the organization at the time of the sale. The MADC and Chamber of Commerce are also separate entities, meaning the land was not sold to an MADC board member like some have alleged.
After the MADC sold the lot to Doerr, City Attorney Justin Johnson said any potential issues that could arise with breaching the deed restrictions would be a matter settled between Doerr and Casey's considering the city no longer owned the lot.
“My understanding is that Casey’s didn’t view it as competition, so they didn’t have any problem with it,” Johnson said of the food trucks parking on the lot.
The specific language included in Casey’s deed stipulated that the property can’t house a business selling gasoline, motor fuels, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, sub sandwiches, pizza and doughnuts for a period of 15 years effective as of January 2019. While the restrictions outlined in the deed limit his options for redeveloping the land, Doerr said he was fully aware of them.
“We were aware of the restrictions when we purchased the lot, and it aligned with our original plan at that time,” he said.