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Owatonna People's Press

Union Hotel in Waterville to find new life in 1888 Apartments

By By ETHAN BECKER,

2023-03-15

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A historic piece of Waterville history will soon be brought back into service for the community.

The Union Hotel, also known as the Rainbow Hotel, was constructed in 1888 on the corner of Second and Paquin Street. Railroad construction in the mid-1800s had transformed the small community of Waterville into a “thriving commercial center,” according to papers held by the National Register of Historic Places.

With another railroad running through the town completed in 1886, Waterville soon found the need for temporary housing. The hotel didn’t just serve commercial businessmen traveling through the city, however, as the surrounding lakes and natural spots made the city a destination for tourism as well.

Jump forward to 2023, and it’s not clear that the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, ever served much use to anyone. The inside was run down, with much of the infrastructure in poor condition. That’s the state that Grant Pope, one of the owners of We Buy Houses Southern Minnesota, found it in.

“There’s been a lot of challenges. We’ve had to brace everything up, we’ve basically reframed everything, because once we’ve got this beautiful building, we don’t want the roof sagging or any other problems like that,” Pope said.

We Buy Houses Southern Minnesota is a Waterville-based development company, which purchased the hotel in July, in order to turn it into a new apartment complex to be named The 1888 Apartments.

“We purchased this property in July, and the place was run down. It was falling apart, and the inside was full of junk and debris,” Pope said, adding that, even with the extra work, they felt the project was worth it.

“We wanted to be the people to step forward first and say we’re ready to make cool stuff,” Pope said. “Once we got into it, people got excited about this. … It’s going to be a great thing for the community and add a lot of momentum.”

The building will consist of five apartments — two two-bed, two-bath units, two two-bed one-bath units and a one-bed one-bath unit — and Pope said that the history of the building will be a big influence in the design of it.

“We’re really going to try to keep the historic look and vibe. … We’re going to keep this exposed brick, which will give it a good feel of what the building was made of, and we’ve got some cool light fixtures and color options that will bring back that time,” Pope said.

While development, especially on historic buildings like this one, runs the risk of being extremely controversial, Pope said that the community has been incredibly supportive in its efforts.

“[The response] has been great. The community has been awesome,” Pope said. “The municipality in the town has been great with answering questions, encouragement and helping with zoning. The locals have been great, too, and have given a lot of love and support.”

To many in the community, that support comes from the joy in seeing a historic building being preserved instead of torn down.

“This is so wonderful that [We Buy Houses Southern Minnesota] are putting heart and soul into saving and restoring this building. For so many of us … it’s been a part of our lives,” Linda Pommeran said in a Facebook comment about the development.

With the weather warming up, and progress being steadily made each day, Pope said he hopes that the building will be done by the end of September, so that the community can have an important piece of their history back again.

“The biggest thing is we know we can make a difference with this project. If we can get people excited about what we’re doing, we can really make a splash and a difference,” Pope said.

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