The Walz administration is reportedly in talks with the St. Paul Port Authority about the sale of the state’s $5.6 million COVID-19 morgue, which went unused throughout the pandemic.
The Port Authority’s board is scheduled to meet Tuesday to vote on purchasing the warehouse for $5.6 million, its current appraised value, the Pioneer Press reported.
The Walz administration purchased the former Bix produce warehouse in May 2020 for $5.4 million. State documents show that a total of $6.9 million was spent on the project, including renovation costs.
The facility was intended to serve as “a building where we can properly handle with dignity and respect and safety the bodies of Minnesotans who may fall victim to the coronavirus,” Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly said at the time of the purchase.
“It’s an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people, but we need to have a capability, we need to have a plan for a large number of deaths,” he said.
But the facility was never used for the “temporary storage of human remains” because the projected outcome of anywhere between 50,000 to 74,000 statewide COVID-19 deaths never occurred.
Instead, the St. Paul building was repurposed as a storage facility for vaccines, testing supplies, and PPE. It now sits “vacant” and is “not being utilized by the state,” according to Port Authority documents.
Several state legislators criticized the lack of transparency involved in the initial purchase, saying it was “a consequence of the emergency powers and the governor not working with the Legislature.”
The state was required to offer the property to state agencies before putting it on the market, but “no other state agencies made an offer to purchase.”
So now the Port Authority is looking to purchase the unused morgue and would “immediately begin broad marketing efforts” to find an “outright buyer or joint-venture partner by the end of the first quarter of 2022.”
“We will have secured such a buyer or partner by way of an executed letter of intent, prior to closing” with the state, the Port Authority says. “The fundamental building components, floor, walls and roof, for a refrigerated space such as this are scarce in the marketplace, particularly at such a logistically desirable location.”
Amazon, HelloFresh, and Imperfect Produce are listed as potential buyers.
“The idea is to find a buyer who will bring jobs to the city of St. Paul,” Andrea Novak, a marketing manager with the Port Authority, told the Pioneer Press. “There is no specific buyer in the wings. We will market this aggressively.”