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SOLD: St. Croix County sells 550 acres at auction

Ringmen Jay Boles (left) and Tim Prusak (right) work the crowd while auctioneer Barry Hager (on the stage) conducts the sale of 550 acres of land owned by St. Croix County.2 / 6
Buyer Roger Neumann (right) talks with auctioneer Barry Hager following the conclusion of Saturday's auction. County Administrator Pat Thompson (left) waits to sign the papers that would make the sale official.3 / 6
Approximately 300 people were on hand Saturday at Gibby's Lanes in New Richmond to be part of, or to observe, the sale of land owned by St. Croix County. Proceeds from the sale will be used to fund several capital improvement projects.4 / 6
Pat Thompson (left) talks over the final papers with auctioneer Barry Hager.5 / 6
The bidding board was the center of attention.6 / 6

A capacity crowd attended Saturday morning's St. Croix County land auction at Gibby's Lanes in New Richmond.

Most of the approximately 300 people at the event were observers, as only 32 bidding numbers were issued prior to the start of the auction.

But the drama was high as auctioneer Barry Hager opened up the bidding. He said the old real estate adage that "location, location, location" drives interest in land especially applied to this particular property.

"I truly believe this is a great opportunity for each and every one of you here today," Hager said as he primed the audience.

He said land has always been a "solid investment," and with corn and bean prices being high, farm land continues to rise in value. Because the county land is also along a major highway, Hager said the land has even higher investment potential.

"I've been an auctioneer for 35 years and have sold millions of dollars of real estate," Hager said. "I can say, without any reservation, that the land I'm offering here today is the best investment land I've ever offered."

Prior to the auction's start, County Administrator Pat Thompson refused to guess what price the land would bring. All he would say was that interest was strong and the large crowd was a testament to that fact.

Of the approximately 550 acres being auctioned, Hager said 467 acres were tillable land. About 121 acres of the land was within the boundaries of the City of New Richmond.

The land was divided into seven actual parcels that bidders had a chance to buy. The parcel sizes ranged from 20 acres to 196 acres. Two of the parcels were adjacent to Highway 64 and deemed prime commercial and industrial development property. Five of the parcels were prime ag land.

As bidding began, it became clear that farmers were interested in the vast majority of the property, while developers and investors had their eyes on land with the greatest potential as buildable lots.

When the auction wrapped up, St. Croix County had netted about $3.5 million from the sale. The per-acre price for the agricultural land ranged from $5,000 per acre to $7,000 per acre. Much of that land (about 450 acres) went to Roger and Laurie Neumann, local producers who already farm land nearby. Their total bill for the day ended up being $2,845,120.

"I didn't expect to get it," he admitted. "I expected it to go for a little more."

Neumann said it made sense for him to buy, as farm land rental prices have gone up and buying the land wasn't much more expensive than renting it.

Because he has sons who are interested in continuing to farm, Neumann said he decided to be part of the bidding.

Parcel 6 went to Donald Anderson for $5,000 an acre, for a total price of $219,500.

The two properties with highway frontage went for $7,000 and $7,600 per acre. The Halleen Family Limited Partnership picked up a 38-acre parcel for $289,560 and BNA Properties LLC picked up a 20-acre parcel for $142,800.

In a telephone interview Monday, Thompson said the county was pleased with the outcome of the auction. He said it took leadership from the St. Croix County Board to pull the trigger and decide to sell the land.

Thompson said some residents thought the county should hold onto the land until land prices rose, but he said it turned out to be a good decision to sell.

"It was a well thought out plan," he said of the decision to sell. "I think the time was right and the outcome is a result of that."

Because of the sale, Thompson said, the taxable land within the county and New Richmond has grown. That's a good thing for existing taxpayers, he noted.

Now that the land is sold, Thompson said the county's focus will be planning for three capital projects in the coming months. The $3.5 million will be used to partially fund an expansion and upgrade of the emergency communications department in Hudson. It will also be used to move the 125 Health and Human Services Department employees out of their current offices and into leased space elsewhere. The funds will also help the county get a start on demolishing the aging Health and Human Service building in New Richmond.

"The $3.5 million won't fund all three of these projects to completion, but it will definitely get them started," he said.

Thompson said no decision has been made about where the Health and Human Services Department will be relocated.

He did say, however, that the successful land sale will help pave the way for a possible new county-owned nursing home in New Richmond.

He said the county retained ownership of 30 acres of land that will provide plenty of space for a new facility, should the county board decide to proceed with such a project.

"We have the perfect site for it," he said. "That's part of my vision."

The only question that remains related to a new nursing home is the financing for the proposal, he added.