A diamond in the rough in downtown Montevideo may soon get a much needed polishing. The venerable Chippewa Bank building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is currently owned by Keith Hein.

A diamond in the rough in downtown Montevideo may soon get a much needed polishing. The venerable Chippewa Bank building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is currently owned by Keith Hein.

Alek Schulz, Montevideo’s Community and Business Development Specialist, has been working to find funding to rehabilitate the building. “We’ve been trying to figure out a way to return the building to an operational state,” said Schulz. “It’s a beautiful building in a very prominent part of the downtown district.”

The two-story brick building stands out on Main Street, with its iconic corner dome and grand entrance, but the building definitely needs preservation. It has been many years since the building had occupants.

“We’ve been brainstorming about this for awhile,” said Schulz, “and now isn’t the greatest time to be working on a project like this, but a grant showed up which the Upper Minnesota Regional Development Commission identified as a way to begin figuring out what the building needs.”

Since the Chippewa Bank building is on the National Register of Historic Places, any work has to be done through historically certified engineers to ensure that the work is done right while keeping the work as historically accurate as possible.

“In order to do that,” said Schulz, “we need to have a building condition assessment done by a certified engineering firm, which costs roughly $20,000. That’s where the grant comes in.”

According to Schulz, the process of applying for the grant has begun. “What a condition assessment will tell us is exactly what it will take to make sure the building is up to operational standards and historically accurate as well,” he said.

Once the building is studied and a report produced for the city, a determination will be made whether the building is too far gone to be utilized, or if there are possible avenues available to fix the building. “It would be greate to see something done with it,” said Schulz.

Schulz related that Hein acquired the building after a business partner passed away. “Back in the day, the two men purchased the bank building and the two adjacent buildings to the north. They had plans of fixing them up and making them beautiful again. Two of the buildings were fixed up, but Keith’s partner died before they could tackle the bank,” said Schulz.

A full, 100 percent restoration of the building isn’t possible. Schulz said: “Keith financially isn’t able to do that, and neither is the city, so any work will have to come from historical grants and such.”

Which is why an assessment needs to be the first step, as it will show exactly what is needed to bring the building back to a state where it can be occupied and utilized.

“We’ve had people come in and tell us ‘it is going to cost $1.5 million,’ or ‘$500,000 will go a long way.’ At this time, we just don’t know but we do know we will have to abide by regulations because of the building’s historical status,” said Schulz.

Schulz said that they will need to approach the Minnesota Historical Society and other historical certified boards to guage their appetite for the project. “Since it is impossible for the owner to fix it up, and iimpossible for the city to take it over, we have to look at various other avenues of financing that are geared toward projects like this,” Schulz said.

The opportunity to pursue this grant is the first real chance to see what it may take to fix up the Chippewa Bank. “We’ve been told the assessment will cost $20,000, so that’s the amount we are asking for in the grant application,” said Schulz.

Hein and Schulz have been looking into how the building could potentially be utilized while maintaining its historic character. “We’ve been looking at the idea of apartments upstairs, utilizing the two spaces on the main floor for commercial space, or turning the entire thing into a daycare facility. There are different things it could be used for; it doesn’t have to be a bank!” laughed Schulz.

There is definitely room for flexibility as to what can go in the building. Schulz said: “Right now it is basically an empty shell; the second floor is nothing but stud walls. I’ve spent about a week in there recently taking measurements and planning with a few different folks. We went through the building with the UMRVDC to game plan our application for the grant.”

The Montevideo EDA met earlier this morning (Thursday) to go over some details in order to finalize the application and submit it by the deadline of May 5. “It’s coming together,” said Schulz. “We hope we get the grant, but if we don’t we’ll just have to find another way to get the assessment done. Once we have the assessment, we can approach people and say this is what we need, this is what it will look like, and how can you help us to do that?”

It is hoped that, someday in the future, the Chippewa Bank building may once again be utilized by the community while continuing to be a historical treasure in downtown Montevideo.