Tracy icon demolished

Building now gone forever, but hopes for property live on, according to Tracy supporters

Photo by Jenny Kirk Derek Vosberg, a Noomen Excavating employee and Tracy native, goes about the task of demolishing the Red Rooster, which had been a favorite restaurant and truck stop for so many in the area for nearly 60 years.

TRACY — Just as the sun began to rise on Tuesday morning, an excavator methodically started to tear down the iconic Red Rooster Restaurant in Tracy. Within 35 minutes, all except for the front brick wall and the far east portion of the structure had been demolished.

For so many around the area who had fond memories of the former truck stop and restaurant, it was a bittersweet day.

“I have memories of the past — of eating pie and ice cream after the ballgames as well as going out for pancakes for breakfast after church — like everybody else,” Jeff Salmon said. “The pancakes at the Red Rooster were huge. They were the size of a plate. But I also know that history comes and goes and I look forward to what’s going to be put there someday.”

The Red Rooster building has been vacant since December 2015 after going out of business. It was reported to be in poor condition back then.

“The outside structure was really pretty solid, but there was a lot of water damage and issues with the roof,” Salmon said. “For what most (potential businesses) would want to do, the replacement of the roof would be difficult to justify. And the layout of the facility versus what most prospects would want wasn’t sized right. (The building) is too small or in the wrong position on the property.”

Salmon is among a small group of individuals who are part of Tracy Development Corporation (TDC), a non-profit corporation dedicated to the economic growth and development of the Tracy area community. Along with Salmon, board members include Dennis Fultz, Jim Keul, Mark Seager, Dale Johnson III and John Lanoue.

“The Tracy Development Corporation was formed in September of 2017,” he said. “We’re basically a group of individuals who came together, recognizing that there was a need for a private group that could work behind the scenes at getting some employment and economic development done, but also working hand-in-hand with the local EDA (Economic Development Authority) as well.”

Tracy EDA Director Jeff Carpenter said both organizations have a similar mission.

“We want to increase the tax base and bring jobs to town as well as keep the businesses we already have here in town,” Carpenter said.

While Tracy EDA and Tracy Development Corporation both want to do the right thing for the community, Salmon said the path to do that is a little different.

“The issue we recognized with Tracy EDA is that there were too many things that the government agency was forced to make public,” Salmon said. “When you’re trying to get a business into a community, those businesses don’t want to make it public until it’s a done deal. So the confidentiality our board can provide to someone helps make some of these things happen.”

Good communication assures that work is not duplicated.

“Jeff is privy to what we’re doing,” Salmon said. “Keeping him in the loop makes sense.”

The purchase of the 2.5-acre property on which the Red Rooster was located was the first project initiated by TDC. Salmon said the group’s primary concern was that if it say empty without anything being done, there would be opportunities that would be missed.

“Unfortunately, it sat empty for too long,” Salmon said. “There’s not really anything more a person could do with the structure. If we get a good prospect that’s ready to move ahead on something, we’re a few steps ahead by having it removed. That’s the reason for getting it leveled at this time.”

Salmon said TDC is currently working with several businesses in the hopes that the large property along Highway 14 is a perfect fit for a redevelopment project in the near future. Salmon added that the fuel tanks will likely be moved at another time.

“Our hope is that we’ll get another business on that lot, and preferably a convenience store with a truck stop,” he said. “We need another one in town for the competition and to give people choices. It would also employee more people, which is important. There are some businesses doing research right now, so with that in mind, now is the time to level the property and get it looking better. It will be easy to see how large that property is once the building is down.”

The Red Rooster became a part of the Tracy community in the 1930s, when John and Millie Smarzik established a small cafe and gas station just a short distance away from the current location. In 1956, the Smarziks started the process of moving their restaurant and truck stop to the north side of Hwy. 14.

Winston and Vic Peterson were the general contractors for the new structure.

“The Red Rooster was built by my dad and grandpa,” Tracy Headlight Herald Editor Per Peterson said on Tuesday morning. “There are a lot of memories here.”

Per Peterson was among those who went home with a bit of distinctive memorabilia after purchasing two red seats and a table — ones that matched the vintage red booths that customers crowded into on busy days at the establishment.

“I also salvaged a bunch of bricks,” Peterson said.

Noomen Excavating owner Lyle Noomen and his crew didn’t mind working seem to mind working in the bitterly cold conditions on Tuesday morning. After knocking down most of the Red Rooster structure, excavator operator Derek Vosberg began the process of removing the rubble by loading up the bucket with debris and dumping it into the back of an awaiting semi. Noomen said a permit allows the excavating company to dispose the remnants of the demolished structure in an area near Walnut Grove.

About a year and a half ago, Noomen Excavating also razed the Tracy Masonic building, which had been a downtown Tracy landmark for 91 years.

While it’s sad to lose a part of history, Salmon said there is potentially something to gain in the future.

“Most of us in our rural Minnesota communities aren’t used to seeing buildings torn down and new buildings put up,” he said. “It doesn’t happen too often. But in metropolitan areas, they’ll tear up 20- or 30-year-old buildings to put up new ones. It happens all the time. We get used to seeing the same things. But I’m excited to see some new things pop up.”

The TDC recently facilitated the successful move of a Hudson, New Hampshire, business called Chasing Our Tails.

“The Tracy Development Corporation was instrumental in recently getting Chasing Our Tails, a dog treat production company, to Tracy” Salmon said. “They just purchased the former Hebig Electric building and the State Farm building.”

State Farm will soon make the move to the former John’s Drug location, with no interruption in service expected.

“With the purchase of one of those buildings, four of us had a conference call for 15 minutes and we were able to put a puzzle together for Chasing Our Tails,” Salmon said. “We were able to commit a few dollars with a voice vote and we didn’t have to disclose the meeting three days in advance. That’s where the confidentiality and flexibility of a private organization really helps.”

Salmon said the people instrumental in organizing and operating TDC volunteer their time and have put their own money on the table with no expectations of personal gain. Any contributions or donations to the nonprofit go toward the betterment of the community.

“The hope is those funds will be turned over and over again,” he said. “In other words, the funds we used to purchase the Red Rooster, when we get that property sold, those funds will be used to borrow out or to purchase other property for economic development and job growth opportunities.”