Pillsbury: Back to square one

Voters shoot down Pillsbury purchase


While the Owatonna school district did see some success on the ballot, the former campus of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College will remain vacant.

The school district posed three questions to voters on Tuesday night, first asking for an extended operating levy, second asking for the authority to implement all day every day kindergarten, and finally, asking for the public’s approval to purchase the Pillsbury campus. The only question to pass was the question concerning the operating levy, with a vote of 6,059 to 5,574. The second question concerning every day kindergarten failed 5,639 to 6,039, and the third question concerning Pillsbury failed 5,690 to 5,982.


Though many in the community have come forward expressing their dissatisfaction with the district’s proposal to begin offering all-day everyday kindergarten during difficult economic times, the decision that could have the most impact in the long-term is that regarding the vacant Pillsbury campus.

Pillsbury Baptist Bible College closed its doors in December 2008, after the college struggled to stay financially viable due to declining enrollment. Prior to its closure, the college campus had long served as an educational facility in Owatonna. The first buildings on the grounds were completed in 1877, when the college opened as Minnesota Academy, according to a history by the Steele County Historical Society. The name was changed to Pillsbury Academy in 1887, and the college was converted into Pillsbury Military Academy in 1920. In 1957, the school was reconstituted as a four-year biblical arts college, leading to its recent name.

While the college is now vacant, the history it holds remains. The site is considered an historic district, though none of the buildings appear on the National Registry of Historic Places. While the cannon that sits on the corner of Main Street and Grove Avenue is the property of the Steele County Historical Society, there is no guarantee that the other features on the site will be preserved if another party is to purchase the campus.

Interest has waxed and waned in the former Pillsbury campus since it closed its doors to undergraduate students. Crossroads College of Rochester expressed interest in the campus in December 2008, but the interest depended on the sale of the existing campus in Rochester, a site that sat on the market for some time with no takers. On the anniversary of the campus’ closure, in December 2009, a Florida man named J Pryor expressed interest in acquiring the campus and converted it into a private four-year, post-graduate medical school. Though he continued to comment online regarding his interest in the campus through January 2010, no purchase was made.

Earlier in the fall, Tom Tapper, the superintendent of the Owatonna school district, said that the school district was the only party vying for the campus. With sentiments echoed by representatives from ATS&R, an architectural and design firm, he said the site was falling further into disrepair with each passing day.

With the failure of the bond referendum on Tuesday night, yet another option for the preservation of the Pillsbury campus has closed. If no one comes forward with an interest in the property, the utilities may be shut down in order to avoid further expense to the current owner.

Comments: I am traveling on business (Charlotte NC) so I have been very occupied all week. I did stay up to about 2:00 a.m. watching the election returns. One of the local issues (Steele County MN) was this ballot initiative. Sadly this did not pass and the Minnesota Baptist Association needs to regroup on its plan to sell Pillsbury.

Update: I retitled this post "Back to square one" from "Back to Ground Zero"


  1. I hate to say it, but good move by the voters. Owatonna is not a quickly growing area that needs any building it can get, and the older buildings at Pillsbury could crush the district in renovation costs.

    Would love to see the debts closed and the buildings used, but this was probably not the right move.

  2. Not surprised that this did not pass because it was connected to a tax increase.

  3. Tough call here! This was a very close vote. Pillsbury needs to put the campus on the national market and advertise it often. Owatonna is actually a city that could grow very fast with good policies and string businesses.

  4. Ah, those lucrative string businesses.. :-)


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