Rochester sends default notice to Castle owners regarding vacancies and closure to the public

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ROCHESTER — A once-promising downtown arts and culture space is virtually empty, and Rochester officials want to know why.

The City of Rochester again issued a Notice of Default to Castle Community on Thursday regarding ongoing issues in the Castle building.

Rochester officials say the castle’s vacancies and its closure to the public violate a 2017 purchase agreement with the city to use the building for arts and cultural groups and events.

The notice does not give a deadline for the band to respond, but it does ask owners to contact the city with information about new vendors or programming, as well as possibly modifying the agreement to take into account the time the castle was not compliant.

Rochester sold the building to its current owners in November 2017 for $250,000, well below the property’s value of $675,000 at the time. City officials set up a tax increment financing (TIF) district to recover the $425,000 difference over time.

City spokeswoman Jenna Bowman said Castle Community did not respond to the notice Friday afternoon.

Castle Community President Scott Hoss could not be reached for comment despite multiple attempts. Calls to other Castle community partners were not returned.

The current iteration of the building began as a potential arts and cultural hub featuring studios, a bookstore, and space on the second and third floors for events. Several vendors had to close or relocate once the COVID-19 pandemic hit Minnesota. The building has struggled ever since.

City officials sent a notice of default to the castle owners on Nov. 11, 2021, in part over its pandemic lease to Echo Church, which failed to meet the arts-based stipulation. The owners have reached an agreement with the city that would see Echo Church vacate the building at the end of March.

Other vendors leaving the castle include Threshold Arts, Neon Green Studio, Queen City Coffee & Juice and Cameo, a restaurant that once occupied the first floor of the castle. The Rochester City Council recently appointed Threshold Arts to operate the Chateau Theater in downtown Rochester.

Cameo owners sued Castle Community earlier this year, alleging the band and Threshold Arts breached a 2018 agreement that granted exclusive food and drink rights at the restaurant as well as a catering agreement for events.

The lawsuit argues that Castle Community breached its tenancy agreement by renting space to Queen City and breached the catering agreement when landlords failed to provide more arts and cultural programming, as well as rental of space at Echo Church.

Former Cameo owner Zach Ohly said Friday the lawsuit is ongoing.

The castle began as an armory built in 1915. The armory building initially housed members of the Minnesota National Guard, but became a community gathering space in the decades following World War I. State officials sold the building in the 1970s and it was a high center for a number of years until 2016. Its exterior, particularly the northeast tower with parapets, earned it its nickname “the castle”.

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