WINNEBAGO — A day care facing eviction in North Mankato closed its doors Friday and parents with children there are wondering what to do now that the building’s owner seems to be backing out of a promise to open a new day care in the same location.
Kasota developer Craig Theuninck received a $300,000 low-interest loan the North Mankato Port Authority and between $125,000 and $236,000 in tax incentives from the city to build the building that housed Beans Plus, a business at 2101 Rolling Green Lane owned by accountant Bernadette Wilson. Theuninck filed a lawsuit in March requesting a court order to evict Beans Plus for failing to pay rent.
District Court Judge Todd Westphal issued an order this week giving Wilson until July 15 to leave the building as long as she paid her July rent by July 1. Wilson recently informed parents she would be closing the business Friday instead of a date in July. Wilson has also been ordered to pay Theuninck $157,000 for past rent, including $10,000 that had been deposited with the court when she challenged the eviction.
After starting the eviction process, Theuninck told Beans Plus employees and parents that he planned to have a new day care business in the building as soon as possible after Wilson was evicted. An email Theuninck sent to parents Tuesday, the day after Westphal’s eviction order was filed, prompted several parents to start looking for other options.
Knowing there could be a delay while the new day care completed the licensing process, those parents had looked for temporary care until the new business opened. Some Beans Plus employees had responded to Theuninck’s request to email them if they were interested in working at the new day care.
“I want to update you regarding the status of a possible day care center opening at the current location of Beans Plus,” Theuninck’s email to parents said. “Given the current circumstances, I am still not able to make a final decision whether to open. It is my hope that over the upcoming days I will be able to make a definitive decision and will let everyone know as soon as I can.”
Anna Fisher, a parent with a toddler at Beans Plus, said that message was much different than what Theuninck told her during a telephone conversation a little more than a week ago.
“I talked to him last Wednesday, June 20,” she said. “I called him. I spoke to him. I told him (Wilson) moved up the closing date. He assured me he was going to reopen.”
“At least three people, including me, have emailed him since he sent the email and nobody has heard anything since. He’s got to understand our frustration as parents with having no certainty. Any sort of information would be helpful to us.”
Chris DeWitte is a Beans Plus employee who expressed interest in working at the new day care when it opened. She said Theuninck’s email is the last bit of information she has received from him.
“He basically told us if we were interested to email him way back in March when he was going through the process of getting (Wilson) out,” DeWitte said. “What he was going to do was hopefully turn us around. There was no response. We never got a response until that email went out saying that he wasn’t sure he was going to open a day care.
“It’s just disappointing. We had a wonderful day care there. All these families are up in the air now.”
There is no language in the Port Authority loan agreement that would require Theuninck to maintain a day care in the building, said City Attorney Michael Kennedy. There is a possibility that the building won’t qualify for tax abatement, however, because the City Council resolution approving the incentive does make reference to a day care.
The resolution starts by saying: “In order to promote commercial, industrial and residential development within the city of North Mankato, the City Council is establishing a Property Tax Abatement program (the “Abatement”) in support of site development for a child care facility.”
Kennedy said he is waiting for the council, which meets Monday, to ask him for a legal opinion about that.
The amount of the actual abatement isn’t clear. The resolution estimated the incentive would be about $8,575. However, a handwritten note at the end of the document includes a much higher number.
“Final amount starting in 2013 $15,978 per year,” the note said. “2012 paid $7,989 only for this year. Per Wendell.”
The “Per Wendell” could refer to former City Administrator Wendell Sande. Kennedy said he doesn’t know the meaning of the note or the exact tax abatement amount. The total abatement over 15 years at $8,575 would be $128,625. The total at $15,978 would be $236,970.
Theuninck did not return calls from The Free Press Friday.