Much ado about nothing

Report of Shopko building sale shot down after weekend buzz

by Tom Coombe
Pronouncements that the Shopko building in Ely was sold appear to be off the mark.
The real estate agent who is marketing the building contradicted Saturday’s claim by Ely Mayor Chuck Novak that the vacant building has a new owner.
“It’s not sold,” said Jeff Houge, an agent for Twin Cities-based Wakota Commercial Advisors. “It’s still available.”
House didn’t directly respond to a published report that the building was “under contract,” and on path to be sold, adding that he “can’t get into details as far as the other project we’re working on.”
“In commercial real estate, something is available until it’s not,” said Houge. “Sometimes deals fall apart.”
Novak, meanwhile, said Monday that two reliable “subsources” provided confirmation of a sale but added he had no other information.
Houge doused the flames that grew over the weekend, in the wake of Novak reporting to media outlets - including the Ely Echo - that the building had sold and that “word on the street” was the building would house a True Value store that would stock similar goods to Shopko, which closed last summer.
Speculation also arose that the building was purchased by Mark Tomsche, who owns a True Value Hardware and Fleet Store in Perham.
But Tomsche said Monday he didn’t buy the building.
“Nothing is happening,” said Tomsche.
The presence of equipment owned by Tomsche outside the Ely Shopko store on Saturday seemed to fuel much of the buzz.
Tomsche, however, offered a differing explanation.
“We were up there purchasing shelving,” said Tomsche. “We had a truck and trailer up there so somebody put two and three together and came up with something.”
Houge added that “the confusion started due to that True Value semi parked there... They were loading things. They had purchased racking and shelving that was in there.”
The building has been vacant since mid-summer, when Shopko shuttered all of its stores, including the 39,000 square foot facility on Ely’s east end. Owned by a Twin Cites developer, the building and property have been on the market with a $1.6 million asking price.
Houge called the Shopko building “an important property in town that sits on a prominent corner and I’m sure people are hoping and wondering. We’re doing everything we can to get an appropriate buyer or tenant that will serve the community.”
Houge said the property has attracted a “fair amount of interest from retailers and even some other uses.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s significant,” he said. “It’s a small market. In my 26 years of commercial real estate you never know what to expect because it’s a big box in a smallish town. It’s been a challenge to get retailers to look at that market. They want sustained population numbers.”
It was Novak who reported a sale, hailing the creation of new jobs yet voicing concern about the impact a new retail outlet would have on existing businesses.
He added Monday that his sources had reason to believe a sale had taken place.
“The title hasn’t cleared, the utilities haven’t changed,” said Novak. “If it’s sold, it’s sold.”