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Unidentified donor willing to put up $500K to save the historic Biermann House

Unidentified donor willing to put up $500K to save the historic Biermann House

Rochester park officials say an anonymous benefactor has come forward in support of a plan to save the historic Biermann House.

The property, which dates back to the 1860s, is located near the entrance of the Mayowood Mansion in Rochester. After years of neglect, the building has fallen into disrepair and, until recently, was at risk of being demolished.

Presenting to the Rochester City Council on Monday, Mike Nigbur, head of the city's park and forestry division, said the donor has pledged to contribute the $500,000 needed to renovate the structure.

While the donor has asked to remain unnamed, Nigbur described the individual  as a "well-recognized member of the local business community" with the means and expertise to follow through with the project.

Under the proposal, the county would transfer ownership of the property and the adjoining trail corridor to the city. From there, the city would work with the donor to return it to a condition that would make it available for public use. The donor, according to Nigbur, would not only fund the rehab, but also take responsibility for managing the project. Additionally, the local historic preservation development firm Blue Planet Museum Consulting has offered to provide support, as needed, pro bono.

Park officials estimate the project would take about two years to complete. Once finished, Rochester Parks and Recreation would take over management and maintenance of the grounds. At that time, the city would begin exploring a long-term sustainability plan for the property.

While a future use has not been decided, the property would include some sort of public benefit. The parks department already manages the adjacent acreage as part of its system of recreational trails — and Nigbur said the Biermann property could become a focal point for Zumbro Trail visitors.

"This project helps to achieve the county’s original goal of utilizing the Biermann property as a prominent feature of a public recreation area surrounding Mayowood Lake," Nigbur told the council.

The building is believed to have been constructed by an early settler of Rochester Township named John FitzJerrole Harmon and later modified by Adolph Biermann, a Norwegian immigrant who held the position of Minnesota State Auditor around the time he purchased the property.

In 1907, Biermann sold the property to Dr. Charlie Mayo, who a few years later built his historic mansion on some nearby land. Because of its association with the younger of the two Mayo brothers, the gatehouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Mayowood Historic District. The county bought the Biermann House and the adjoining acres in 1979. But after plans for a county park failed to come to fruition, the county decided to lease the property to a historical group. The building soon fell into disuse and has sat empty ever since.

At Monday's meeting, council members expressed mixed feelings toward the park department's proposal. Council Member Michael Wojcik called it a "tremendous win for the public," while Council Members Ed Hruska and Nick Campion were more reluctant to support the proposal outright. They raised questions about the long-term viability of managing the property.

Council President Randy Staver also noted that a second proposal is on the table. Businessman Joe Powers has submitted a plan to convert the building into two or three rental units while maintaining the historic elements of the property. Powers owns the nearby Mayowood Barn.

"What's appealing is the alternate proposal potentially not only renovates and preserves the structure from a historical standpoint, but puts it back on the tax rolls," Staver said at Monday's meeting.

The decision is now in the hands of the Olmsted County Board, which is set to take up the proposals at its meeting next Tuesday. If it decides to move forward with the transfer of property to the city, it would be up to the Rochester Park Board to decide on how to move forward.

Cover photo: Biermann House / Jonathunder / Wikimedia Commons

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