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Iconic Farmington building is on the market

Farmington's historic Exchange Bank building is up for sale.

One of Farmington's most recognizable buildings could be yours if you're willing to pay the right price.

A for sale sign went up last week in the window of downtown's Exchange Bank building.

Built in 1880, the building at the corner of Third and Oak streets was originally home to a bank and an upstairs grand hall that served as a community gathering place. It has long been a landmark in the city, and in more recent years it has been the source of some controversy, including a lawsuit with the building's current owners.

The Exchange Bank was in rough shape by the early 1990s. Long neglected, it was boarded up and owned by what was then known as the city's housing and redevelopment authority.

The HRA, now known as the economic development authority, completed an exterior renovation of the building in 1997, and looked for an owner who would make similar improvements inside. A plan to build an upscale restaurant in the building fell through not long after the renovation was complete, and in November of 1998 the HRA sold the building for $1 to the father-son team of Hosmer Brown III and Hosmer Brown IV. The HRA selected the Browns from among several applicants interested in developing the building.

The Browns promised when they bought the building to upgrade the interior, but those improvements did not always come at the pace the city wanted. The Browns were selective when it came to the tenants they signed up for the building, saying they wanted businesses that fit the character of the building. But that sometimes made it hard to fill the available spaces. The building has only been fully occupied once, and a space on the corner has been empty since Lillian's moved down the street. A ground-floor spot in the adjacent Larsen building, also part of the sale, has been vacant for years after being home to Fan Club Athletics and Buds and Bytes computer repair and flower shop. Both of those businesses now operate elsewhere downtown.

The delay in getting some renovation work done led to confrontations with the city of Farmington. In 2008 the EDA issued deadlines to get the work finished. When they weren't met, the EDA reclaimed the building's deed and drew on an $80,000 letter of credit to get the work done. The city reversed those actions a couple of weeks later, though, on the advice of the city attorney. The dispute eventually led to a lawsuit and a settlement that included the city paying the Browns $21,500.

The EDA no longer has any claim on the building, and city officials did not know about the sale until contacted by the Independent last week.

An online listing for the building does not include an asking price. The Exchange Bank building is 9,052 square feet and has an assessed value of $310,100 including building and land. The Larsen building is 3,576 square feet and has an assessed value of $151,500.

The buildings are currently occupied by Cow Interrupted Ice Cream Studio and Grand Hall Studios, a fitness center and event hall that operates upstairs in both the Exchange and Larsen buildings.

Hosmer Brown III deferred questions about the sale to his son, who did not return a call in time for this issue of the Independent.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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