Tibetan community pleads with New Brighton Council over property purchase

The New Brighton City council voted during the Aug. 27 meeting to redevelop a former church that the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota was poised to purchase.

The City Council first discussed this item during a closed session in the beginning of August, where direction was given to staff to negotiate an offer to purchase the property at 701 8th Avenue NW, acknowledging that final approval of the terms would be considered during the Aug. 27 open council meeting.

At the open meeting, the council agreed to pay $1.9 million for the abandoned Korean United Methodist Church on the north end of New Brighton’s Old Highway 8 corridor, an area the city has sought to revive for over the past decade. The Tibetan American Foundation’s offer came in slightly lower at $1.8 million.

The church has been on the market since 2015.

The unanimous vote took place after pleading testimony from Tibetan American Foundation members and supporters, asking the city to reconsider purchasing the property.

“The irony that is see here is we are planning to buy property that the city wants to destroy,” said Tibetan American Foundation member Jigme Ugen. “We are not a rich community. We don’t have a lot of money but the community decided to put in money — every household pitched in money — so we can buy this property.

This is how much it means to our community. This is home. There is no place we can go back to.”

“I understand that just two weeks ago they thought they would be the purchasers of this Korean Church after looking for a long time for a place,” said District 41 Senator Carolyn Laine. “My concern is whether the bidding was done in good faith and I will put this responsibility on the realtor.”

Council member Gina Bauman said that the city council has been interested in the property for the development of senior housing.

“My hope is that you never feel that we were up here and trying to do something that would hurt your community,” said Bauman. “I think it is great that you feel this way about our community.”

New Brighton Mayor Val Johnson also said that the council would like the Tibetan community to establish a facility in New Brighton but their priority must go to their constituents and raising money for city services.

“This is a difficult decision,” said Johnson. “This does not come by lightly by any means and it is also a very unusual decision because normally when you are in a purchase agreement with another party you don’t know who the other party is. That should not be a part of a purchase decision like this. We have to weigh both sides of the coin and make a decision that’s right for the city and the citizens of our community. By putting this property back into inventory, so to speak, and building homes on it, we add to our tax base. That’s one of our biggest considerations.

The Tibetan American Foundation, which has outgrown its current facility, began working to buy the church two months ago and planned to convert it into a community center for the state’s approximately 3,000 Tibetan immigrants. The Tibetan community in Minnesota is the second largest in the United States.
The Tibetan American Foundation vice president Sonam Dorjee said that they will not raise their bid for the Korean Church.

The city plans to work with a developer to demolish the church and build housing on the parcel it sits on. At this time, all costs for the property will be paid for out of the Redevelopment Fund 560.

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