Author: Teri Hovanec
The Governor’s Morgue FOR SALE: Never Used and Never Needed.
Last year, I submitted a FOIA request on the old Bix Produce Co.’s former cold storage facility in St. Paul when it was purchased as a “backup morgue” and received the entire due diligence file on the property.
What I found was alarming.
Normally, it is customary for a building to complete a number of due diligence inspections as a part of the of a purchase, especially for a commercial building that has been vacant for an extended period. I have worked in the engineering field for more than thirty years and have been completing property assessments for more than twenty.
Based on the review of the entire “due diligence” file, they did zero.
The state paid $5.5 million for a building that had been vacant for well over two years, with Minnesotan’s cash in hand and a 30-day notice. They did ZERO due diligence when they purchased it. Instead, they relied on an old Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) and a Property Condition Assessment (PCA) that appeared to have been utilized for financing purposes. The environmental assessment noted a potential for groundwater contamination under the site and recommended a sub-surface slab testing/investigation and possible installation of a sub-slab mitigation system.
Anyone that knows anything about developing and buying property in Minnesota knows that vapor intrusion can be a big issue. That’s why these tests are so important to conduct, because potential, dangerous gases entering the building could be a significant health and safety risk for front-line workers intended to be in that building.
My review of the property indicated that the likelihood of a big issue was slim, but this testing needed to be completed and the potential concern investigated. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has readily available guidance, standards and clearly established risk level standards. Any bank or lender financing this building would have required it as part of the financing. But this work was not completed.
The PCA report identified a roof over 20 years old that was approaching the end of its life and would need to be replaced. The refrigeration system had also exceeded its useful life and major repair and/or replacement was anticipated.
Why is all of this important?
Because after the date of purchase, no permits were issued to fix any of these issues for well over a month. I called and checked the permit status of the building every day for a month after they bought it, and no permits were ever issued.
If the Walz administration thought this building would be so immediately necessary as a morgue to house the thousands upon thousands of deaths they were convinced, and had convinced the public, would occur, wouldn’t Governor Walz have pulled a permit DAY 1 (or BEFORE) and started working on the repairs this building obviously needed? Wouldn’t they have wanted to immediately get the building ready for the influx of bodies they were dying to get inside? Unless that is, they knew the morgue would never be filled with human remains.
The state of Minnesota knew this was a bad deal. Governor Walz’s macabre predictions of dead overwhelming the state’s funeral home capacity were based on fundamentally flawed modeling that first predicted 74,000 COVID-19 deaths, then 50,000 deaths, then 22,000 deaths (even with mitigation efforts!).
The deal was so bad that Governor Walz asked the federal government to reimburse the state for most of the morgue. Before they could even get their hands on the federal money, they were already making plans to re-spend those millions elsewhere.
The Walz administration even tried to find someone to lease the building last year but couldn’t find a lessor. Because of the state’s heavy-handed, overreactive, and destructive economic shutdowns, no businesses were in a financial position to gamble on that deal.
The building was put up for sale, and recently purchased by the St. Paul Port Authority[RLM1] to ‘hopefully’ find a business to purchase. After operating costs and needed improvements to ready the building, the total cost for the morgue was $6.9 million. It was sold for $5,650,000, putting Minnesotans at a $1.25 million loss.
The Governor’s Morgue will forever stand as a monument to Governor Walz’s failed leadership and inability to be there for Minnesotans when they needed him most. The reckless purchase of the morgue supported a narrative that Minnesota was projected to be a death-zone of COVID-19 deaths; a false narrative that was used to justify the autocratic shutdown of Minnesota businesses that needlessly forced them to close their doors – many of them permanently.
When Governor Walz purchased the unnecessary morgue, he sold Minnesotans fear. He wasted millions of dollars on something we never needed because Walz chose to circumvent the legislature, the public and keep everyone in the dark during a time when we needed to work together. The morgue was never used and Governor Walz prevented media and the public from entering the facility and knowing what was (not) happening inside.
Last year, Governor Walz said in his own words that “At a minimum, the State of Minnesota will keep the building until the pandemic ends.” If that’s true, then perhaps the sale of the Governor’s Morgue is a sign that the pandemic and Walz’s failed leadership is finally coming to an end.