Anyone who has been in downtown Blue Earth the past few weeks has surely noticed a lot of activity at a building on the corner of Sixth and Main streets.
The sandblasting of the brick walls of the former Main Street Agency Insurance building has been hard to miss.
“We are trying to get the outside of the building restored,” says owner Eric Erdahl, of Fridley, a Twin Cities suburb. “That is our first step in doing a total rehab of the building.”
Erdahl purchased the building nearly two years ago from insurance agent Mike Petersen of Albert Lea. Petersen had been using the front office space as a satellite insurance office in Blue Earth.
When Petersen closed the office he put the building up for sale at a rock bottom price.
“Actually, I saw a story in the Faribault County Register about two years ago,” Erdahl says. “It reported how the Blue Earth EDA members toured the building to see if they should get involved with it, or just get it and tear it down.”
Erdahl thought it would be a shame to tear it down, so he stepped in and bought the building.
The very first step had been to repair the roof.
“We did that right away,” Erdahl says. “It was actually in pretty good shape, but we needed to do some work on it in spots. You have to have a decent roof first, or the rest of the building is quickly in trouble.”
The walls were the next thing. Erdahl, and his contractor from Mankato, Clayton Johnson of Johnson Building Restoration, agreed about the process.
“All the paint had to be removed, so that was the sandblasting,” Erdahl says. “The paint holds in moisture against the bricks and eventually damages the bricks and the mortar.”
The two are still deciding what to do with the windows, and the wood siding on the front and side of the building.
“I would like to restore it to look a bit like it once did, with larger windows,” Erdahl says. “”But we are not sure if that will happen or not, or if it is even feasible.”
While it looks like the contractor is done on the walls, that is not quite true.
“They had to take a break to finish up some work elsewhere that had to be done before September,” Erdahl says. “But they will be back in a couple of weeks to finish work on the walls yet this fall.”
After the outside gets to a certain point, Erdahl will move inside and start construction there. He still is not certain how the inside will be set up.
“We plan on creating a couple of apartments upstairs, and maybe one downstairs, as well as a business space in front and perhaps one on the side,” he says. “But we are not sure of the exact layout yet.”
Some of that depends on financing as well as construction schedules, and there are also a few other considerations.
“I want to see how much interest in apartment and business space there is here,” he says. That is because his plan is to fix up the building and then rent out the apartments and a business space for a store, cafe or office area.
Erdahl says former building owner Doug Weber, of the Main Street Agency, has been visiting with him and sharing the history of the building.
Erdahl grew up in Frost, but moved away at an early age. His father is Arlen Erdahl, who served in the Minnesota Legislature from 1963 to 1970, served as Secretary of State from 1971 to 1975, then was the First District Congressman from 1979 to 1983.
Eric Erdahl says the family moved around a lot when he was a kid, because of all of his father’s political work in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.
“My dad, and my mom, Ellen, are still alive and doing well, living in Prior Lake,” Erdahl says. “Dad is 91 and still reads the Faribault County Register every week. He and my mom let me know about this building, and so here I am.”
Erdahl, who is “taking a break” from his job as an architect, says he hopes the Blue Earth community is patient with his project, because he knows it will take a while to get it all done. He is busy with helping take care of his parents, rehabbing buildings on the family farm and also this project in downtown Blue Earth.
“It will be a long process,” he says. “But I think it will look great when we are done.”
That is the plan right now, he adds.