Is Northfield Business-Friendly?

warmwelcome.jpgThere is much of my beloved irony to the picture on the left. In order to illustrate this blog posting, I searched for “warm welcome”. This is one of the images that was retrieved.

When Northfield gives a business a warm welcome, is this what the business experiences?

The current Comp Plan Revision Process has raised an issue that has long lingered beneath the surface in Northfield. Chamber President David Ludescher has shared his concern that some of the Draft Development Principles based on citizen input might not be considered friendly by the business community.

David’s goal, that Northfield is friendly to business, supportive of job creation, and recognizes the importance of a growing tax base, is an important one. However, what exactly constitutes “business-friendliness”. I was thinking of a warm welcome and look what I got. Furthermore, who is responsible for this friendliness? Finally, will well-worded Development Principles and $1.50 get you a business-friendly community or just a cup of coffee?

If I were to go out on a limb, and offer my own idea of business-friendliness, and perhaps over simplify, I would summarize it as having two components: the presence of tools necessary for business and the absence of obstacles to economic development. In my mind, necessary tools would include a good transportation system, safety from criminal activities, adequate to exceptional utilities, including the communication network, some basic level of freedom to create and market products, and a sufficient mix of financial resources to realize the business’ vision. Unwanted obstacles might consist of inadequate infrastructure, limited resources, misguided or overzealous or arbitrary enforcement and requirements that simply are not feasible, and, perhaps most important, a bad attitude.

Certainly, city staff has much responsibility for the business-friendliness. In today’s Northfield News, City Administrator Al Roder described the economic development staff as the front door to our community. It may make a difference if the first thing that visitors read is “Welcome” or “Please Wipe Your Feet”. Theoretically staff is only implementing the vision of the Mayor and City Council. Our leaders certainly need to be aware of the experiences of businesses with the City of Northfield. Perhaps due to David’s concern about the opinions of citizens shaping the community’s development goals, lately I’ve been wondering about how much responsibility the people of Northfield bear for the business-friendliness of our community. Perhaps at the very least, the citizens set the tone.

Some economic philosophers, and I won’t mention any names, tend to view the citizens as mere consumers, shaping the economy purely through their decision-making on product purchases. I, however, am considering citizens in their roles as capital investors. After all, their taxes are part of the sources by which a community builds its infrastructure. By speaking for or against swimming pools, art centers, public libraries, highway upgrades, hockey rinks or business parks, the citizens can have at least some influence over investment decisions that may or may not lead to the creation of good-paying jobs and a vigorously growing tax base. I think that this role may be the focus of David’s concern, he is urging that citizens’ input should ideally lead to what he considers to be the type of investments that will hopefully foster economic vitality.

But I want to return to setting the tone. There are seven people on each of the City Council, Economic Development Authority and Planning Commission, for a grand total of 21. That’s out of 18,000 some people in Northfield. If the people of Northfield want our community to be more than a bedroom community, if they want a balanced portfolio of investment in our town, if they want the creation of more good-paying jobs, and if they want to increase the supports for our tax burden by growing the business sector, that will help set the tone. The Planning Commission heard those messages from the public at the input gathering sessions. Apparently David didn’t hear that message. Maybe it’s time to turn up the volume.

Locally Grown has quickly established a reputation for being a noisy place of opinion sharing. Please let David know what you think constitutes “business-friendliness”. Tell him, and us, and our leaders, and each other, who you think is responsible for this friendliness. Finally, let the community know what you think we should do to make Northfield more business-friendly. We all need to hear it.

69 comments to  (Including 4 Discussion Threads) Is Northfield Business-Friendly?

  • 1
    BruceWMorlan says:

    Ross, your point must be tempered by the fact that the city staff IS the front door. And in an attempt to satisfy all the constituents, you have to deal with the fact that a significant proportion of the citizens would find a Toyota assembly plant (great jobs and tax base) an anathema (“evil cars”), while others would find a non-profit wind farm (“over-subsidized eyesore”) to be similarly tainted. And you have to write a comp plan and city codes to reflect that schizophrenia. Sigh. But the real problem you have is infrastructure. Infrastructure is not something that magically appears, and building it betting that industry will come in and offset the costs is 1990s thinking. Planning commissions need to start planning rather than reacting. Last Saturday Dundas city council, staff and planning commission members met to start developing processes to deal with planning for infrastructure rather than simply reacting to growth. This means that we plan to show people in real terms what major decisions will mean in terms of population, jobs and taxes, as we anticipate having to choose between industry and housing.

  • 2
    BruceWMorlan says:

    By the way, if your business recognizes that integration into a small town means being conscious of the rural roots and love of the land that small towns based on farming, not agriculture, have, then we are “business friendly”. If your business believes that providing good bike parking and connectivity to trails is part of a good business plan, then we are “business friendly”. If preserving important environmental features like swamps (er, “wetlands”) and riparian buffers is part of a good business plan, then we are “business friendly.” But if all you want to do is build a 20-yr building and get a quick profit, then we are probably not so “business friendly”. Planning commissions serve at the will of the elected officials, but at the same time this gives us the opportunity to do the right thing because we can see further than the next election.

  • 3
  • 4
    David Ludescher says:

    Bruce came pretty close to summarizing my point. If you are in business in Northfield to make a profit -- then Northfield is a difficult place to be. Development principles that require businesses to create public amenities, such as bike trails, greenfields, and public spaces at business expense, and not at public expense, price Northfield out of the business development market.

    Let me follow up on a point that Griff raised in the podcast, and which I have not been able to articulate because of my focus on business. Let me submit this proposition: Strip malls, trailer parks, cul-de-sacs, ticky-tacky housing and other elements of our community supply important utilitarian functions and deserve a place in the Comp Plan. Get rid of trailer parks and you will exclude a large segment of our population. Exclude strip malls and many businesses won’t survive. Build large, beautiful schools and property taxes go up, and residents move out.

    It is not just businesses that don’t feel particularly welcome in Northfield. Look at the principles and tell me what in there is welcoming for blue-collar residents.

    Vern Rippley made a crude, but essentially accurate, representation of a mentality that pervaded much of public input process. He referred to the East Siders as the Bike Rike. Diversity and mixed use is a laudable goal until you stick 5 noisy college kids next to your house. Then, government regulation becomes necessary restore tranquility.

    As I and the rest of the Chamber Board members read the present principles we could not even find the words business environment in the 12 principles. We couldn’t find any reference to the EDA’s own Economic Development Plan. We couldn’t find an reference to transportation plans which are so important to economic vitality of the community. But, we found numerous references to “pedestrian experience”. How pedestrians are an important part of Northfield’s development escapes my concept of development.

    So, if there are legitimate voices that can convince the Chamber President that Northfield is a business friendly town, I would love to hear from them. That is not what we are hearing from our members.

  • 5
    Ray Cox says:

    David makes very valid points. I sometimes think that Northfield is more concerned about establishing processes to talk about what things should be like in a Utopian world than actually working to deal with the world we live in. We have cumbersome processes in lots of areas and often must do or purchase things not asked for in other communities, driving up the cost of doing business. Every resident, or customer, pays for the cost of those services.

    Then, in other areas, in spite of years and years of so-called planning, we fail miserably in supporting our business community. A case in point is Northfield’s ‘transportation plans’. We defer and delay taking action to create east-west roadways until it is simply too late to create them. It is not ‘business-friendly’ to ask a loaded semi to travel through two of our busiest intersections and then drive out through a college campus to head east.

  • 6
    Griff Wigley says:

    Norman Butler sent this as a letter to the editor at the Nlfd News but evidently it didn’t make it into print. I’m assuming IBC = Int’l Building Code and MNBC = MN building Code and that he’s experiencing a measure of frustration with the City of Northfield’s building inspector as he contemplates changes to his building.

    To Be or Not to Be?

    The IBC and The MNBC

    Both agree

    That there SHALL BE.

    So, what’s to disagree?

    Rather than ‘shall we?’

    (which is rot)

    It should be

    ‘Shall we not?’

    Who will make them see?

    You? Not me!

    For we all agree

    He is a deity.

    Or close kin, currently.

    So, given that

    Who will bell the cat?

  • 7
    Alex Beeby says:

    The sentiments of residents are crucially valid, and Northfield should, IMHO, respect and try to accomodate them. They represent who we are as a community.

    At the same time, we do need to think about ways of maintaining a sustainable community. This includes supporting the business community, so it can, in turn, support the residential community. As an obvious economic reminder, businesses, directly or indirectly, exist to satisfy needs and wants of individuals, or they don’t succeed.

    Accordingly, this business community should complement the community as a whole. How good of a job is it doing? (Please don’t take this as a claim that it’s doing poorly, but as an important self-assessment question for the business community.)

    The question should not be “how business friendly are we?” Instead, what kind of business environment do the residents envision? What kind of residential environment do businesses envision? How would these environments impact our community? What can we implement to best approach the residential community’s, sometimes Utopian, ideals in a sustainable manner that requires understanding of the business community’s, sometimes Utopian, ideals?

    It seems to me that we have a tendancy towards the community complaining about businesses and businesses complaining about the community. Maybe it’s a doomed marraige, but maybe some counseling is in order.

  • 8
    BruceWMorlan says:

    David Ludescher wrote

    Bruce came pretty close to summarizing my point. If you are in business in Northfield to make a profit -- then Northfield is a difficult place to be. Development principles that require businesses to create public amenities, such as bike trails, greenfields, and public spaces at business expense, and not at public expense, price Northfield out of the business development market.

    In Dundas we are very aware of this problem. That’s why, for example, we are trying to make Low Impact Development (LID) analyses part of the development proposal. I am told that done correctly, LID costs less not more (think storm sewers vs swales and rain gardens), so I expect these analyses to steer the proposals in the direction we would like to see. All I ask is that the prospective developer/business be given the chance to see this savings. Of course, we add incentives too, but ultimately I do not want to see us make businesses do unprofitable things. On the other hand, I would really like to see concerned citizens be given a chance to voluntarily subsidize a business that was able to show that LID would cost them more (this is why Tracy rightfully calls me a utopian dreamer). We contend, however, that bike routes are an important part of infrastructure, not an amenity, and asking businesses to help fund them is no different than asking them to help fund road improvements needed to handle their trucks or water towers to provide them with fire protection. This latter requirement is more of a paradigm shift and I will not apologize for trying to make that shift a part of the Dundas design philosophy. And if businesses find such a simple thing too expensive, then perhaps they should steal infrastructure support from some other communities largess.

  • 9
    David Ludescher says:

    I own both a house and a business in town. Both use approximately the same amount of public resources. Yet, I pay 3 times as much on my business as my house.

    So, let’s say my neighbor wants to build a bike path. I will pay 4 times as much as he. Will I will less willing to have the bike path built? Of course, because the bike path costs me 4 times as much.

    The Development Principles add another layer of costs. Some of the principles require that my business be solely responsible for the costs of bike paths and green spaces without requiring that the public share any of the costs. To term it “infrastructure” is disingenuous. Of course the majority of people would want it if they don’t have to pay any portion of it. (In politics nowadays, the popular term is “investment”, i.e. investment in our children, investment in our future. In business, we need to be worry about the return on our investment.)

    In designing these principles, we need to ask ourselves, “Would I pay my fair share of the costs of the requirements so that I can get what I want?”. If not, then we need to ask, “By what authority should I ask someone else to pay for what I won’t pay for myself?”.

    I would submit that if we truly value bike paths, green spaces, and other non-business related amenities, one methodology is to have the City buy land and convert it to public spaces at public expense. Sure, businesses will be paying 3 times as much. But, we already are paying three times as much.

    Perhaps even more fair would be to create an enterprise fund, like we do for water and sewage. Every resident would pay into a fund which could be used to establish park lands, green spaces, and bike trails. Or, we could do it like a school levy.

    The worst possible way to get what we want is to tell people that they have to pay for something that someone else wants. The best way to make sure businesses do what you want is to give them money for doing it. Build a bike path, and the City will pay for it. Every business would do that. It adds some value to their business at no cost. The City would get the path for the same price (and maybe less) then it could build it.

  • 10
    Peter Waskiw says:

    David
    You have been reading some philosophy books, I’m impressed!!

    However, let me correct you, if I may, on a few things. These are not meant to be criticism of your comments or opinion, but more observations from my experience.

    First of all, you state “ The Development Principles add another layer of costs….. Principles require that my business be solely responsible for the costs of bike paths and green spaces without requiring that the public share any of the costs.” This is not true. The developer who wants to develop a green field or brown field site pays the cost, which is then passed onto the consumer. Any adjoining properties do not pay for walking or biking paths because they have either previously paid or are not of the development site.

    Second, the term infrastructure is a tricky one to use. Perhaps, the way to look at it is to say that the public benefit is not always measured by cost, but by unmeasured benefits, such as health, neighborhood amenity, safety, reduce street cost, and appeal. Take for example health costs which are hard to define. The B/C to the health care system can be measure, but due to the costs being hidden across a larger group of members it hard to see the exact user B/C to the consumer!!. Can we say then that biking and walking paths offer a more direct health benefit then the health coverage we get now. With a bike and ped paths, I can CHOOSE to become healthy, therefore cutting health costs to myself and those that pay into the fund. OR, I can CHOOSE not to use the bike path. So there is a direct consumer benefit to bike and ped paths, a healthier life style!

    Third, and I must say you have some very interesting philosophical questions, “Would I pay my fair share of the costs of the requirements so that I can get what I want?”….(and)…. “By what authority should I ask someone else to pay for what I won’t pay for myself?” Well, guess what, we do pay. Whether we know it or not. ALL development costs are passed on to the consumer. Even the State of MN which builds roads uses tax payer’s money, there is no magic money tree. The same is true with a private development; the consumer pays for the product. If the product is not what people want, then the developer usually suffers.

    Forth, let’s not confuse businesses with developers. Or perhaps you could clarify what you mean by businesses. The developers of green field sites KNOW that amenities like bike and walking paths, lighting, good access, parks, and trees SELL properties.

    Of course, let’s not forget about the architectural style and square footage issue.

  • 11
    David Ludescher says:

    Ross’s original question was whether or not Northfield was “business-friendly”.

    He indicated that I didn’t hear the message at the public input session that Northfield is a good place to do business. He concluded that the people at the public input session said that they wanted good paying jobs, a balanced portfolio of residential and business, and that we wanted to grow the business sector. His conclusion was that I didn’t hear the message; and that the volume needed to be turned up.

    Ross may be right; I may not be listening very well. If that is the case, then the whole Chamber Board has the same problem that I do.

    What we are hearing is that businesses are welcome provided that they conform to standards (Development Principles) that designed for primarily for a certain type of lifestyle. The business community is told that this lifestyle will, in the end, prove to be the best lifestyle.

    Such an attitude is may be right and even admirable; but, it is not encouraging to business.

  • 12
    Ross Currier says:

    David:

    I’m not sure where I gave you the impression that you have a hearing problem. I think that we both have heard that Northfield needs to earn a more “business-friendly” reputation. I have also heard that people in Northfield want good-paying jobs, a balanced portfolio of residential and commercial investment and that in order to achieve those goals, we need to grow the business sector.

    Your sense that Northfield has more or higher standards than other communities may be true. Your assumption that some businesses may prefer to locate in communities that have lower or no standards may also be true.

    My purpose for opening a discussion on “business-friendliness” was to include topics in addition to the Development Principles (for the Land Use Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan) in our consideration. Unless we expand our discussion and efforts beyond the development principles, I don’t think that we’re going to make much progress to our shared goal of business-friendliness.

    I sent a link to my blog posting to almost 50 local business leaders. Only two have participated in the discussion. I, and I think David, would really like to hear their thoughts, so I’ll ask again…what constitutes “business-friendliness”.

    Thanks much,

    Ross

  • 13
    Griff Wigley says:

    FYI, the Nfld News has an article in today’s paper titled:

    Group considers how to make city more ‘business-friendly

  • 14
    Ross Currier says:

    FYI, the NDDC posted a blog entry too:

    http://nddc.org/weblog/post/735/

    (…and has a picture!)

  • 15
    Peter Waskiw says:

    Even though this web link to the “New Urban” newsletter might not be what some folks are looking for with regards to having the correct answer to the question of what constitutes “business-friendliness”. It speaks to the issue of what standard can or should we expect our business community, leaders and developers to aim towards.

    I especially like to the article on how production home builders can capture a growing market and avoid the coming glut of large-lot houses. And the growing support of new urbanism principles by the multiple billion development company General Growth Properties towards redesigning the shopping malls concept.

    Are we “business-friendly” or “business savvy”?

    http://www.newurbannews.com/Jun07.html

  • 16

    Highway 3 entrepreneurs have a relatively smooth ride as far as I can see. They apply to build something and are either granted or denied it or, if denied, must fight for it. They build new building, talk to Planning, hires architects who follow the Codes for new buildings, etc., apply for variances when it comes to signage and parking, and eventually open for business (or not). The so-called Process is clear and designed to meet or frustrate their plans.

    Downtown is different. Four or so years ago I was involved in a fracas about putting new windows in my downtown building without a permit. The Building Official marched unannounced with a policeman in my office and told me I had 30 minutes to vacate the premises. I was somewhat taken aback and it was the policeman who prompted the BO to explain my rights. I forget what they were. I appealed. I repeat, I appealed. This led to a Council Chamber confrontation with the HPC. I cited the real example of the Oolala remodeling (and others), the Council deliberated and the windows stayed. The Process was unclear, messy, confused, confrontational, irrational, rebellious, and authoritarian. All of this is grist to the mill of the democratic process, yet it took an Appeals Process to resolve it. In this regard, I see no change Downtown.

    The Guidelines for the Rehabilitation of Existing Buildings, qualified by the Codes for MN which qualifies the Accessibility Codes (and others) and referring to those for new build (International Building Codes – IBC) – all these Codes are a veritable maze, a mishmash of contradictory rules and guidelines. It takes a really good architect or Building Official to untangle them and these people should ideally be predisposed to interpret them in favor of business coming to Northfield and most especially in favor of business coming to Downtown; be they new, expanding, relocating…whatever. This is not the case and, who knows, perhaps never will, or can, be.

    If the City Council professes to be business-friendly, then all the staff must assume this orientation. If the Council professes to support the Downtown, then the whole staff must adopt this position. Meanwhile, I gather at this stage little mention of business or the Downtown has appeared yet in the revised Comprehensive Plan.

    It is the small- to medium-risk takers who fuel the economy and they range along a continuum from the naïve, under-capitalized, enthusiast to the savvy, well-heeled, corporate professionals. The latter have no trouble navigating and negotiating with the other players in the mix; government bureaucracies, government-appointed committees and related entities all of which function along a continuum between regulation (Planning Department, Building Department) and facilitation (EDA, Chamber, NEC, NDDC) with government-appointed committees (Planning, EDA) in the middle.

    In terms of business-friendliness, our concern should be with the former, the true entrepreneurs, and our analysis should be in terms of the structural tensions between the two functions of regulation and facilitation: In extremis, regulation becomes authoritarian, facilitation becomes permissive. Finally, this discussion should be in terms of real people having real experiences.

  • 17
    David Ludescher says:

    Norman makes a number of good points (if I understand correctly). These are points that I had not adequately considered in my “Chamber” presentation.

    First, Highway 3 (non-downtown) businesses have it much easier than downtown businesses from a regulatory and facilitative perspective. I would agree that maze of regulations for downtown combined with the downtown regulators (building official and HPC, to mention just two) make doing business downtown more difficult (and more expensive) than doing business on the strip.

    Second, I remember the fracas over the windows. It illustrates only too clearly that sometimes those who profess to have the preservation of the historical Northfield as their agenda may not be able to see the forest for the trees. Norman should be the client of the HPC, not the opponent.

    Third, those organizations which could or should have supported Norman were not supportive of his “problem”. I am not aware of any systemic structure designed to address the other side of historical preservation, i.e. the costs that individuals have to bear to keep their properties up to the higher standards demanded in the downtown.

    There is a perception the best way to make the downtown stronger is to limit development on the outskirts. Norman’s experience tells me that this attitude is not productive. In fact, we may need to examine whether the largest impediment to a business friendly downtown is those who are seeking to preserve its historical character.

  • 18
    Tracy Davis says:

    Dave, I think you’re painting with too broad a brush. Historic preservation is *not* inherently hostile to business interests. If our regulations here are, they need to be corrected, but please don’t globalize! Preservationists and conservationists of all stripes have a hard enough job as it is.

  • 19
    Mary Rossing says:

    Tracy/Dave
    Of course historic preservation is not inherently hostile to business interests. In fact, thoughtful preservation can be a huge draw for many types of businesses and customers. The issue is COST. I’m sure Norman would have been more than happy to put the top shelf custom historic windows in his building if the cost was not prohibitive. The requirements for historic accuracy in restoration of downtown buildings is a huge economic burden--and this before a business can even open their doors. Plus retrofitting new codes into historic structures like sprinkling systems, larger handicapped restrooms, etc, take money and the latter takes precious square footage. Then the tax burden is much higher because the restored historic building has such a high percieved value…Thus we are paying a premium for doing the community the favor of opperating our businesses out of downtown. If the community values a strong downtown, which I know it does, then perhaps there could be some economic incentives for business investment in our shared historic downtown. Or am I dreaming?

  • 20
    Tracy Davis says:

    Mary, I don’t think you’re dreaming at all -- you’ve provided exactly the kind of information that needs to be gotten to the public so they know what downtown building/business owners are facing.

    Personally, I believe that retrofitting the old buildings to meet many of the new codes is both burdensome and unnecessary. I also believe that we should work to establish some sort of preservation fund that could be used for specified building improvements (like windows).

  • 21
    David Ludescher says:

    Norman -- I would interested to hear some more specific thoughts on what can or should be done to address the regulation/facilitation question. Specifically, you have identified the Chamber (and others) as a facilitator. What can or should the Chamber be doing to act in a more facilitative mannner?

    What I would envision in the future is that a Chamber member who is having the kind of difficulty to which you refer could call the Chamber and turn himself or herself from a “naive, under-capitalized enthusiast” into a “savvy, well-heeled professional” for the price of Chamber membership.

    Tracy has thrown out two thoughts: look at the existing regulations, and establish a downtown preservation fund. Is there any merit to those ideas? Who would do the work?

    You had your own thoughts -- but no specifics. How will an attitude change happen?

  • 22

    As a free-market advocate I am always torn between the needs of the business person, who may be more interested in saving energy than in saving historical window designs, and the needs of the groups who would direct businesses through codes and regulations. Balancing things like this is made more difficult because of the perceived rough hand that public organizationa without funds often wield as they create unfunded mandates. I have long argued (in Dundas and Bridgewater) that the planning process should work to ensure that those with conflicting goals are given a chance by the process to see that the objectives can be made to work together. For example, Low Impact Development (LID) is easy because many of the things we encourage can be shown to be less costly to the developer, it’s just that they often don’t run the numbers because the city codes make it easier to just tie in to storm sewers than it is to build run-off management into the design. Coming back to the specific example of the HPC, yes, Norm should be a client, in that when he wants to upgrade/repair his windows the HPC should be there with a check to cover the difference between the “off-the shelf acceptable anywhere else in town” windows Norm would like and the (perhaps) custom made, image-preserving windows the HPC thinks are needed. Nothing soothes hurt feelings and smooths ruffled feathers quite like a check to cover the difference in costs.

    As for the process, I am working with the Dundas city staff, city council and planning commission to create checklists that will make the process of development, upgrading and downtown development more transparent to all the players. Putting together such checklists at the beginning of the process would help everyone involved know where we are in the process. Eventually I hope to have checklist “on the shelf” to be modified as needed, especially to help businesses who want to work with our downtown development plan (when we get there).

  • 23
    Bill Ostrem says:

    Is mixed-use development business-friendly if developers (which are businesses, after all) are enthusiastic about it? Does mixed-use development put businesses and customers and employees in closer proximity? Last week I was in Bend, Oregon, a rapidly growing community of 75,000 in which mixed-use development has been embraced by both planners and developers and in which bike lanes coexist well with motor vehicle lanes.

    I visited one new mixed-use development: NorthWest Crossing, created by two large developers: Brooks Resources and Tennant Developments.

    Here is some verbiage from their page on “Sustainability”. Remember, this is written by developers, not professional environmentalists:

    At NorthWest Crossing, environmental responsibility is very important to our community. That’s why we employ several practices to ensure sensitivity to Mother Earth.

    Every home in NorthWest Crossing is required to be Earth Advantage™ Certified, a program that addresses building issues such as energy efficiency, recycling, building materials, landscaping, water and indoor air quality. Two of NorthWest Crossing’s newest commercial buildings are in the process to be LEED-Certified, a national green building rating system for commercial buildings. For more information on these programs, visit http://www.earthadvantage.com and http://www.usgbc.org.

    And because what we put on Mother Earth is just as important as what we don’t take away from her, we give tremendous attention to preserving natural landscape-even if it means locating a road around existing stands of pines-and maintaining the natural beauty of our community.

    NorthWest Crossing’s interconnected street, sidewalk and trail system encourages residents to rely less on vehicles thereby reducing hazardous emissions. Commercial areas, schools and parks are located right in the neighborhood to provide easy access for local residents. And on those rare occasions when leaving NorthWest Crossing is a necessity, residents can easily get on the Bend Area Transit bus system. Mother Earth couldn’t be more pleased.

    The prices at Northwest Crossing are high by Northfield standards, but the area there is booming. Also, presumably energy costs would be lower there for renters and homeowners due to the building quality; transportation costs would also likely be somewhat lower due to alternative transportation options. (I won’t even get into the health advantages.)

    I was told that the Chamber of Commerce there endorses the concept of creating a multi-modal transportation system in which people can get where they want by driving, walking, biking, or taking transit -- in short, a full range of choices.

    Bend is planning an even more ambitious mixed-use development, Juniper Ridge, which would include a university and research park. It’s had some problems but may be promising.

  • 24
    Mary Rossing says:

    Though a check up front would be nice, perhaps tax credits might be just as desireable. Or like the “this old house” provision that encourages home owners to go ahead and restore their old home but not bear the upward spike in property tax due to the increase in value for 10 (?) years. We give TIF financing to other developments--why not the downtown? Personally, it is the property taxes that have made a difference in making a living and just holding my own. On my home I get a property tax refund every year because my income is so low--is there a comprable thing that can be done with business property--especially as businesses (and the downtown traffic counts) are getting established? Any programs like this would also be an incentive to businesses looking to relocate or start up in our downtown--more density, more traffic, more investment of private dollars, more sustainability…!

  • 25

    Checks up front are clear, traceable (accountable) and transparent. Tax credits, TIFs and other “creative financing” are just back alleys and smoke-filled rooms with a thin veneer of acceptability. Just look at how mistrustful the voters are of TIFs. Can’t blame them, it takes an accounting degree just to understand some of them. “Keep it stunningly simple or face frustration“, that’s the ticket to better understanding, quicker acceptance and great results.

  • 26
    Mary Rossing says:

    Bruce,
    Ok, I’ll take a check if you insist. Just didn’t think most people would be able to stomach directly subsidizing my business. But maybe I’m wrong. Is there a way to help with the high property taxes that would be palatable?… which brings us back to the original question of business friendly and business growth throughout Northfield--we need a deeper and wider tax base and this means being proactive about space needs for business and industry to expand. In Northfield we need to think of a new business park as a necessary amenity/investment for quality of life just like we do parks and recreation facilities. We need to set aside space for this now, and figure out the transportation and technical infrastructure to support business, just like we have as housing and population has expanded.

  • 27
    David Ludescher says:

    I think that there has been some talk with Sen. Neuville regarding creating a program like This Old House. But, that still doesn’t address Norm’s window problem.

    Norm implies that the standards are subjective to the point of arbitrary, and the standards are being used in a regulatory, rather than a facilitative, manner. He says that this attitude makes it even more difficult to be downtown then out on the strip.

    Perhaps this is an issue that the NDDC should address.

  • 28
    kiffi summa says:

    If I knew how to do a “block quote” , I’d put the last two sentences of May Rossing’s post #19 in here. Please go back and read it again……….

    For the last two years , the city council, at their retreats, have named the Downtown as one of their most urgent priorities to support….. But when it comes to action, or dollars, to support that worthy goal, I don’t see a strong , consistent policy effort.

    For instance, the Downtown Revolving Loan Fund exists to support DT businesses with lower interest loans, but it is constantly looked to as a source of funds for other causes. The EDA, which doesn’t always seem to heed the advice of their own (was it $90,000.00 ? ) TIP Strategies study, when it cites the DT as an economic development strength……… looks to the DRLF $$ as a source of funding for a $50,000. forgiveable loan for a newly recruited business coming to town. I agree we need to work hard to recruit appropriate new business, and find incentives for their encouragement.
    BUT…….Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought those DRLF $ were for the existing businesses in the DT, which admittedly operate under the most layers of restrictions of any commercial area, as they are also subject to the overlay of the HPC/Historic District; carrying with that both the pride and the problems that Norman and Mary have mentioned.

    What’s the true, operative policy here?

  • 29
    Ross Currier says:

    Three years ago, the NDDC submitted a proposal for (I believe) $50,000 of CDBG money to use to support adaptive reuse projects in historic buildings. Our vision (if I remember correctly) was to give away $5,000 grants to ten projects over two years to supplement the high cost of such work and stimulate (or pump-prime) private investment (with perhaps some public partnership) in downtown. Let’s just say that there wasn’t much enthusiasm from city staff for our proposal.

    Mary Rossing put her finger on the heart of this issue, there is a significant economic challenge to historic preservation. Kiffi Summa put her finger on the soul of this issue, talk is cheap, financial incentive programs are what is needed.

  • 30
    David Ludescher says:

    Providing financial incentives begs the larger question of providing accountability for the expenditure of public monies.

    Assuming that there had been a pot of gold for Norman from which he could have installed new windows in accordance with the HPC’s regulatory order, installation of HPC windows may have been an ill-conceived idea. If installation of the windows was a bad business decision for Norman, then having someone else pay for it doesn’t make it a better decision; it only makes it more fair.

    What I have been unable to detect in my limited dealings with the HPC and other preservationist efforts is any discernable objective standard to judge the merit of a preservationist proposal, or to judge the merit of one proposal against another. In other words, we can’t do everything. So, how do we prioritize projects like Norman’s window project?

  • 31
    Betsey Buckheit says:

    My quick reading of the National Register of Historic Places information indicates that Federal law doesn’t impose any regulations on listed properties (except for tax credits and grant programs), nor does the state, but the city has chosen to enact ordinances establishing the HPC (see City Code 34-486, this is enabled by state law) and then empowering the HPC to review building permit applications for properties in the DT Historic District and approve changes (see 34-458 to 34-460).

    If I’ve got this right, and I hope someone will correct me if I’m wrong, then the business community could lobby to change the ordinance and reduce the burden of the regulations and reduce the slant of the playing field for DT business owners.

    As well, as Bruce Morlan is doing in Dundas, I repeatedly advocated for a thoughtful review of the procedural requirements and fees to make a development checklist as short and clear as possible and that fees and regulations don’t penalize businesses. This should, obviously, take place with the input of business people who have experience with the city development process and can describe what works and what doesn’t.

  • 32
    Norman Butler says:

    The decisions the Building Official and the HPC make are not the issue. The issue is, of course, accountability! Thus far, as long as I have been here and as long as I have intimately involved in these people (and they are all honourable, sincere, and thoughtful), their committies (well intentioned and responsive), and their timelines (!!!), deliberations (???)and their processes (***), they are not accountable! There is no second chamber, ombudsman, court of appeal. It is not about money, grants, loans -- all of which would add value to the downtown entrepreneur -- it is about accountability! AAAAGGGGHHHH.

  • 33
    David Ludescher says:

    Accountable to whom for what?

    By what rule and measure is an appeals/review process to judge the decisions made?
    That is, how would the appeal process make the decision-makers more accountable?

  • 34
    Betsey Buckheit says:

    Changing the ordinances regulating the HPC could include procedural regulations -- as it is now, the HPC has broad discretion and no regulations guiding time frame, criteria for decision-making, or any other accountability safeguards. Ditto for the appeal “process” to the City Council.

    The prime reason I supported the reorganization of the DAB (Design Advisory Board) several years ago was because that board, while sincere and knowledgeable, also had no accountability, stipulated standards nor any basis in the code for any of their demands to developers.

    I agree that accountability (along with transparency & predictability) is crucial for all city decision-makers from staff to the council and now, when the land use regulations are being revised, is prime time for building as much accountability into the code as possible as well as removing barriers which may already exist.

  • 35
    David Ludescher says:

    Holly asked in Post #165 of the Prayer Group thread why I thought that Northfield has an anti-business reputation. Please refer to the comments in posts 2, 4, 5, 10, 16, and 19 for the beginning of an explanation.

    I not only believe that Northfield has a reputation as anti-business, I also think that the reputation has been earned. One of my goals as Chamber President is to educate the public about the communal value of a healthy and vibrant business sector. One only has to look to Dundas to see the great disparity in attitude which exists in the Chamber’s service district.

  • 36
    Griff Wigley says:

    David, are their benchmarks or outcomes that you and the Chamber (and others) have established for changing this attitude? In other words, when and how will you know when it’s working?

  • 37
    David Ludescher says:

    Those are some good questions, Griff.

    What the Chamber has chosen to do is to work on initiatives -- Highway 19, business park, and state issues (taxes, health insurance costs, infrastructure etc.). By focusing on individual business concerns, and the value to the overall community, we are hoping to change people’s minds one issue at a time.

    But, I like your suggestion that we should try to get some concrete benchmarks to evaluate how the business community in Northfield compares to other communities, and if we are making progress.

    We have one measure from the Retail Strategies Task Force -- 49%. Northfield’s retail sales are 49% of what could be expected for a town our size.

  • 38

    I’m late to this discussion but would like to comment on my experiences with Care Tenders. When I was building for Care Tenders Ray Cox guided me through numerous committees. (He is a SAINT to put up with all the hogwash these committees create.) The DAB at the time included my brother-in-law and the “second” architect/designer of the building. Neither were allowed to speak “because they might have a conflict of interest in my plans” (they didn’t). One member of the DAB pushed his personal agenda repeatedly…he wanted sidewalks…WIDE sidewalks (in a commercial development & Care Tenders servicing persons from their home). If the building had wide sidewalks I needed to change all the windows facing the sidewalk to safety glass. The added cost would have been somewhere between $26,000 -- $35,000. I said “NO”! The 3 members of the DAB making the decision (present & not related or employed on the plans) backed down.

    The next issue was trees. Yes, I had 20-50 trees in the back of the lot but they didn’t count. I had street frontage and a cul-de-sac on the side (corner lot) and “the guidelines say I should plant 32 trees”. Ray did his best to convince them that while I may have plenty of frontage I did not have adequate space for even 15 trees. I remember Ray stating, “In 5 years she will have a severe tree problem if she must plant 15 trees.” After much discussion the “3 decision makers” allowed me to plant 12 trees. Later, when I wanted to put evergreens around the building I was told I needed to go back to the DAB for approval as “The plan listed deciduous shrubs”. I refused and planted evergreens. Honest-to-God building in Northfield was one of the worst experiences I’ve had. It was arbitrary…capricious…and ridiculous. I will NEVER build here again.

    Again, re. commercial property taxes. When I built the CT building I was told commercial taxes would be “around $3,000 per year”. Dream on. They currently are $16,000. My assessed value increased $85,000 for 2007. UP Up Up! (It will be interesting to see if taxes DECREASE now that property values are falling.) Look at all the empty storefronts and empty buildings in Northfield. Small businesses are hanging by a thread & I don’t believe anyone really cares as NO ONE will take on the “elephant in the living room” which drives all of this. I believe the heroin issues, secrecy at city hall, blaming a police chief for stating a legitimate problem, secretly advocating for a municipal liquor store, should I go on??? There is too much secrecy about who or what really drives Northfield. And, it is killing small business.
    Just watch us go.

  • 39
    Ray Cox says:

    Barbara, I thank you for your kind comments about me and your experience with building your facility in Northfield. I wish the comments about the city process were as kind. It is interesting to hear your thoughts--someone that came to town and had to deal with city issues. After 35 years dealing with such things on an ongoing basis, I must say that they’ve ‘worn me down’ and I just continue to expect the things that are done to people wanting to build here. I will say that there are significant differences in dealing with building in other cities in the area—most being easier to navigate.

    My biggest concern with all the committee decisions and permit processes and applications of hundreds of rules is that they totally ignore the basic common sense of individuals. When someone is going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, or possibly millions, on a facility, they most likely have a pretty good idea of how they want things to look. To tell someone that they have to change a tree or plant variety, change a paint color, or increase a private sidewalk width seems very arrogant to me. People will install landscaping to make their buildings presentable. They will ask for it to be painted a color they like. Those same people will own and operate the facility and they most likely know what their customers will expect for amenities.

    I will never forget one evening several years ago I had to attend the DAB committee. Keith Covey was the Facilities Director at Carleton and was there presenting to the board for a building. He had window cladding selections, brick samples, mortar samples, roofing materials, etc. The DAB started picking on things. For quite a bit they focused on the brick color, wanting to change it from the one being presented. I could not believe that a city committee was actually proposing major changes to a private building, after architectural professionals had made the selections for the owner.

    I don’t necessarily care for every bit of architecture I see in the world. The University of Minnesota has a ‘tin can’ art building, Seattle has a library formed completely with steel and glass diamond shapes, etc. But I want people to feel free to express designs of all kinds. I don’t care to have a committee in charge of so many of these subjective decisions.

    I think the town could use a bit more belief in individuals and allow them to create buildings without overbearing committee involvement. We really can get by in many of these areas without having government ‘assistance’ to plan our projects. Is this an essential role of government?

  • 40
  • 41
    Ross Currier says:

    Griff has suggested in several recent comments that my overall evaluation of City staff may have changed. Actually, my valuation system hasn’t changed. However, over the past eighteen months, there’s been quite a bit of staff turnover down at City Hall.

    I haven’t attended any of what I’ve heard to be excellent Candidate Forums at the Contented Cow. From what I’ve heard, one of the most-promised deliverables by the candidates is to “increase the business-friendliness” of Northfield. Apparently, it’s repeated like a slogan, something along the lines of “I’m for Mom, Apple Pie, and Increasing Business-Friendliness”. However, there has been very little definition of “business-friendliness” and even less on specific steps to take in order to increase it.

    I’ll offer one definition of “business-friendliness”: a good attitude. In this specific case, I’m thinking of the attitude of City staff. Most the staff I’ve worked with down at City Hall over the past eight years have been great; more importantly, they have that good attitude that is a key component of “business-friendliness”.

    Most of my work has been with the “worker bees”. If the City’s organizational structure is a pyramid, I’m working with the folks down at that rock-solid base of the pyramid. In thinking about the staff turnover over the past eighteen months, most of it has been at or near the top of the pyramid.

    In my opinion, the staff members who departed from the higher strata of the City staff pyramid over the past eighteen months (or so) did not have that good attitude. I don’t wish to be overly dramatic, but with the City staff who departed, the City staff who were added, the City staff who were (at least on an interim basis) elevated, and the City staff who had been there for a couple of decades and were finally recognized for their long-standing good attitudes, there has been, in my experience, what feels like a 180 degree change in the, let’s call it, attitudinal culture of City staff.

    The four “newer” Councilors, Buckheit, Ganey, Nakasian, and Zweifel, have been frequently criticized, at least by specific segments of the population, about their approach to economic development. They have been accused of being stuck in amber, trying to turn a lawnmower into a go-kart (which, frankly, made me think of Steve Jobs, who tried (successfully) to turn a telephone into multi-media device), and, most remarkably, “mean”.

    Now, I admit, I generally limit (in fact I work hard to limit) my observations of the City Council to those times where they are discussing issues that have substantive impacts of areas or functions for which I believe I have some interest or responsibility. However, I have observed several instances in which some or all of the four “newer” Councilors were accused of being “mean”. At the risk of generalizing, the majority of these instances, in my opinion, seemed to be based on situations in which the Councilors were accused of being “mean” to City staff.

    “Mean”, in my opinion, was not the appropriate word to use. In my personal observations of this handful of instances, it seemed to me that the Councilors had requested information from City staff at a previous meeting and City staff had not delivered the information, or at least not in the format or to the level of the Councilors’ expectations. Perhaps a better word might have been “tough” or “demanding” or even just “following up”.

    It is interesting to me that the City staff members who were subject to this alleged Council “meanness” are the same City staff members who have moved on. Yes, that’s right, these victims of “meanness” were the same City staff members whom I, personally, thought lacked good attitudes.

    So, were these Councilors “mean” to the staff with bad attitudes and “nice” to the staff with good attitudes? Perhaps it could be considered effective management, enforcing a policy requiring good attitudes.

    Perhaps it is a management strategy shared by the chief of operations, in the last eighteen months, City Administrator Madigan. Certainly he has been clear from the beginning about his expectations for the attitudinal culture of the City staff.

    Perhaps most importantly, there appears to be more agreement between a majority of the Council and a majority of staff on attitudinal culture at City Hall. From my perspective, over the past eighteen months, this certainly has been a rapidly and clearly emerging trend.

    Perhaps it’s just a coincidence. After all, I’ve only had my current level of involvement with City staff for the past eight years. Perhaps six and a half years of a bad attitudinal culture and a year and a half of good attitudinal culture is not an adequate period of observation from which to draw a conclusion.

    Then again, maybe there is a connection. Maybe the “newer” Councilors’ “meanness”, or “demanding” management style, or simple “following up” and the City Administrator’s “severity”, or “clarity” of expectations, or simple “following up” has played a role, perhaps even a key role, in the 180 change in attitudinal culture of City staff.

    In which case, perhaps I owe them my thanks for the recent, steady, even dramatic increase, at least in my experience, of the “business-friendliness” in Northfield. Oh, and I guess I owe my thanks to Griff for pointing it out to me.

  • 42
    David Ludescher says:

    Ross,

    Here are some specifics on business-friendliness:
    1. Restore the autonomy of the EDA,
    2. Revise or gut the rental ordinance,
    3. Make the Chamber a consulting partner in decision-making,
    4. Revise the Comp Plan,
    5. Revise or gut the Land Development Code,
    6. Start spending the Streetscape money on infrastructure for businesses, instead of latte projects, like bike paths and parking lots.
    7. Work on a plan that would allow the business park to develop organically.
    8. Take a serious look at the property tax burdens that the City is creating.

    I don’t know about staff friendliness. But, with the exception of the Mayor, this Council has largely ignored the concerns of the business community.

    • 42.1
      Ross Currier says:

      David --

      Thanks for the quick list of specific action steps. I have some thoughts on several of them, but for right now, I’ll just focus on the Streetscape projects.

      Of the $1.8 million that has been spent from TIF District #4 to date, most of it has been very much related to the three founding priorities of the district: street infrastructure, dam wall repair, and parking expansion. The 5th St. and 4th St. infrastructure replacement projects cost about $1.1 million and the dam wall repair cost over $200,000. That’s almost three-quarters of the total expenditures to date.

      For the other one-quarter of the expenditures, we got a variety of things. These include a water fountain, new streetlights, wayfinding signage, park benches, bike racks, parking lot enhancements, and the timed crossing light on Highway 3.

      I’m particularly confused by your derisive categorization of parking lots as latte projects. More than any other project, it would seem to support business. In fact, something like four dozen downtown business owners recently signed a petition to the Council in support of parking expansion.

    • 42.2
      David Ludescher says:

      Ross,

      Let’s analyze the Streetscape projects in terms of my downtown business interests:

      1. The bike path (paid entirely by downtown business owner property taxes) cost $0.25 million, and provides almost $0.00 in benefit. It will serve a very small segment of Northfield’s population -- quite likely the latte crowd who paid little or nothing for the development. It does nothing for my business.

      2. The 4th and 5th Street projects cost $1.1 million and got us exactly what we already had. For those businesses bordering on the project, they also received a street assessment. If the Streetscape were not available, the money for the project would have come from the general fund, and not from the downtown property taxes. In essence, the downtown taxpayers are funding their own streets. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pay any of that assessment. But, I received no tangible benefit.

      3. The Streetscape Committee wanted to or still wants to spend about $0.75 million to add 18 additional parking spaces near the library. That is over $40,000.00 PER PARKING SPACE. Not only would I not receive any benefit, but I am currently paying property taxes for the private parking spaces that I have at my office.

      We (the collective “we”) seem to forget that the Streetscape money is coming from the money that would have otherwise gone to the City, School, and the County to fund their activities. Both in theory and in practice, some kid isn’t getting a textbook, or some one in poverty isn’t getting help because we are spending money building bike paths and parking lots. That is why I would support forfeiting the money back to the taxing entities. As a business person, I would take some comfort in knowing that my tax dollars are going to a needy person rather than another latte project.

    • 42.3
      Ross Currier says:

      David,

      the analysis is definitely based on your interests. We agree that the Streetscape Funds are generated by tax receipts in TIF District #4.

      We can probably also agree that it’s ALL taxpayer money, the Streetscape Funds and the General Fund…and the EDA Levy too. I think you’d agree that the funds generated by TIF District #4 are being spent in the District instead of going into the General Fund. You apparently are opposed to having the funds spent in the District where they were generated.

      I also agree with you that it’s a lot of money for an eighth of a mile of bike trail. However, the particular parcel is the meeting point of Northfield and the DNR and MNDoT (and Xcel Energy was involved too), as well as private and public landowners, along an eighth of a mile that has a number of challenges, not the least of which is that it is where land meets water. It is also a key connection between our downtown Riverwalk and the future East River Trail, which is part of the trail that will eventually run from Mankato to Red Wing.

      Many studies have demonstrated that bike trail users are, bluntly, a high-income demographic…perhaps what you might call the “latte crowd”. It has been well-documented that bike trail users spend money. I think it’s smart to connect them to local businesses.

      You are probably right, few bike trail users are going to hire you as an attorney. However, clearly they visit the local restaurants and apparently they often also visit the retailers, and will therefore bring more money to the overall Northfield economy. Perhaps some of those Northfield businesses are going to hire you as an attorney.

      Of course I agree that the infrastructure on 4th and 5th Streets already existed. However, our professional staff told us it needed to be replaced. You could, of course, argue that a referendum would have been a better process.

      Yes, TIF District receipts were used to pay for TIF District costs. As I said, it seems that you would prefer that TIF District receipts instead flowed into the General Fund; sounds like you’d prefer that the costs be paid by the General Fund. I guess reinvesting in the district that generated the funds makes some sense to me; it’s a commitment to make necessary future capital expenditures for maintaining existing infrastructure.

      Admittedly, using Streetscape Funds as part of the funding for a project that includes stuff that is buried under the streets doesn’t have the visual impact of other projects, and may not offer the anticipated additional economic activity. However, it is, along with the dam wall repair and parking expansion, one of the founding priorities of TIF District #4.

      As I understand it, the water and sewer infrastructure under 5th Street, a half block from your building, is part of a larger system. Perhaps, even though you weren’t assessed, when you flush the toilet in your office, you do benefit.

      I’m tired of people spreading misinformation a bout the 3rd and Washington parking expansion. Our then-City Administrator estimated that it would create 24 spaces. A local architect drew up a code-compliant plan which showed 30 spaces. Where the then-City Engineer came up with the 18 spaces is your guess. The three-quarters of a million estimate is for acquisition, demolition, and construction, with a half million for acquisition. The actual acquisition price has never been determined.

      Sure, it is a basic principal of urban economics that greater density typically generates higher prices. We could probably acquire a site somewhere down the road to Faribault for a lower price but that’s not where we need the parking.

      As I’ve said before, expanding downtown parking is one of the three guiding reasons for establishing TIF District #4. There are at least four decades of studies demonstrating the need for additional parking. Last fall dozens of building and business owners confirmed the need by signing a statement to the Council. Expanding parking is essential for the continued economic vitality of the downtown, generator of the District TIF revenues. In fact, investing in downtown parking expansion is crucial for the economic health of downtown, one of the major drivers for the overall Northfield economy.

      I’m fascinated that you think that the staff at the City, School District, and Rice County would make better spending decisions for taxpayer funds than the Northfield Councilors. However, I think it’s important to remember that if we don’t make infrastructure investments that support our local businesses, like the parking expansion, it will be challenging for them to continue to generate the revenues to support the City, ISD, and County.

      David, as I understood it, you long ago rejected investments in projects that enhance Northfield’s quality of life as a bunch of bo-bo…balderdash (although we should remember that the original Liberals, the philosophical fathers of the free market, were also the original bourgeois, and I will cite Steve Jobs as a great example of what often happens to bohemians when they need money…they become entrepreneurs). We could continue to debate this for years.

      I’m happy to let you have the last word on this subject, but then let’s move on from the Streetscape Task Force to number one on Ludescher’s list of specifics for increasing Northfield’s business-friendliness: “Restore the autonomy of the EDA”. Would you please develop your concept on this subject a little bit more?

    • 42.4
      David Ludescher says:

      Ross,

      I think the main reason that you and I have such a wide difference of opinion/conviction on whether the Streetscape money is being wisely used is that there are no guiding principles (rubrics) to objectively determine which expenditures are good investments and which ones are poor investments.

      I suspect we have the same problem discussing business-friendliness.

      Nevertheless, I will try to address your EDA question on the other thread.

      • 42.4.1
        Ross Currier says:

        David --

        You have not answered my question. You have not explained your number one step for increasing Northfield’s business-friendliness “Restore the autonomy of the EDA”. Please explain what autonomy was taken away from the EDA and how, in your opinion, this has undermined business-friendliness.

        Thank you.

      • 42.4.2
        David Ludescher says:

        Ross,

        The EDA needs to govern itself.

      • 42.4.3
        Ross Currier says:

        David, you’ve just used different words to say the same thing. Please be specific about your allegation that the EDA’s autonomy was removed and what you would to to “restore” this autonomy.

      • 42.4.4
        David Ludescher says:

        Ross,

        I would restore the Authority to full membership, stop setting economic policy for it, give it some staff support, and give it a reasonable budget -- all things it used to have.

      • 42.4.5
        Ross Currier says:

        David, what has been taken away from the EDA?

        As I understand it, the mayor wanted to appoint herself to the EDA, an idea that was opposed by a majority, if not a unanimity, of the Council, and so, when blocked, she declined to propose an alternative and refused to fill the final “citizen” seat on the EDA. Therefore, the EDA currently has five members instead of the full seven members. I guess I don’t agree with your limited assignment of guilt for this alleged act of business unfriendliness; it takes two sides to achieve, or fail to achieve, a compromise. Perhaps you’d detail your version of this appointment process.

        You’ve talked a lot about rubrics. As I’ve been told by others, it is, historically, the procedures of a religious service, or, at least locally, the assessment of student academic progress. I assume you believe it to be a method for comparing seemingly unlike alternatives for, from your perspective, potential positive financial impact on a business or building. For the EDA, I would venture, the policy basis for the procedures or assessments would be the community’s goals and objectives for economic development, and that both the Council and the EDA would be guided by the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan. I am fairly certain that the EDA, like the Planning Commission, the HRA, and EQC, makes recommendations to the Council. Perhaps you’d detail your allegations about policy-setting improprieties.

        Having worked closely with the President of the EDA over the past eighteen months, I know that he believes that the current EDA staff support, the staff person in place since the beginning of the year, is excellent. In fact, he has repeatedly advocated that this “interim” EDA staff person become the “permanent” EDA staff person. As you may have learned from my previous comment on the current City staff, I support him in his advocacy; the “interim” EDA staff person is excellent. Perhaps you’d detail your criticism of the current staff support.

        The EDA’s budget, or, at least what I think you’re referring to in your statement, the EDA’s revenue, is determined by a annual levy on taxpayers. I’ll admit that I don’t know the details about mill rate and all that, but I do know that the total dollar figure has been about a quarter of a million dollars annually in recent years. Based on my observations for the past, say, seven years, it appears that the EDA’s expenditures are significantly shaped by how much is claimed by the city administrator, probably through discussion with the mayor and council, for staff salaries, benefits, and related costs. Perhaps you’d detail what you mean by a “reasonable” budget.

        Again David, what has been taken away from the EDA?

      • 42.4.6
        kiffi summa says:

        Ross: this is a great line you’re pursuing, because it seeks to illuminate the kind of rhetoric that passes for “Why you (the public) should vote for me”… so making the candidate give real answers is great…

        I suppose to be totally fair, you should try to engage the opposing candidate to dialogue on this important subject.

      • 42.4.7
        David Ludescher says:

        Ross,

        Since I left the Chamber, I don’t know much about the EDA’s workings. But, there appears to be some problems at the Council level with the appointment of members, and a desire to have the EDA perform according its wishes rather than let the EDA establish its own mission. The EDA needs to be able to function on its own without Council interference.

      • 42.4.8
        Ross Currier says:

        David, admittedly, I have not read the state statutes; my understanding is that the EDA exists to offer advice and recommendations to the Council, with some requirement to provide regular reports on their finances and activities, and probably even occasionally take directions and implement tasks from the Council…

        …but I’m thinking that you and I may have harvested all the “low-hanging fruit” from our conversation on this subject.

        Let’s move on to a topic where I suspect we’ll find more agreement, your number two item on Ludescher’s list for greater business-friendliness: the rental ordinance.

      • 42.4.9
        David Ludescher says:

        Ross,

        I am almost certain that state statutes dictate otherwise. I think the EDA is set up like the HRA -- as an independent legal entity. It is not charged with, nor is it required, to take any direction nor implement the Council’s idea of “economic development”. The Council’s control is essentially limited to approving the EDA members and vetoing certain EDA activity.

      • 42.4.10
        David Ludescher says:

        Ross,

        The statute is 469.091, which provides that an EDA is a body politic of the state and is capable of suing and being sued.

      • 42.4.11
        Phil Poyner says:

        I’m no expert on the state statutes (or state law, for that matter), but it would seem that 469.092 suggests the City Council has a fair amount of control over the EDA.

      • 42.4.12
        David Ludescher says:

        Phil,

        You are correct. But, you will note that the Council’s powers are regulatory, not legislative. The EDA is a separate legal entity, and a body politic of the state. That is why it is called the Economic Development Authority.

  • 43
    kiffi summa says:

    It was really fascinating to go back and read through this thread, especially in light of the term “business friendly” which is thrown about so loosely, especially by the candidates for this election, and if I may say so, in David’s list above.

    My problem with David’s list is just that: it is a ‘list’, and no list will solve any problem unless it is a first step to a whole lot of integrated deep discussions.
    There is also one of Ross’s “beloved” ironies here… the first part of the word ‘listen’ is l.i.s.t. !

    I have real problems with some of the items on the list: let me just deal with a couple: re: #1 :the EDA:
    You will all remember the condition of the EDA before its “re-organization”…2 members, Victor Summa and Steve Engler were perceived to be a problem because they were always asking for staff, and executive committee accountabilty.
    Let’s just say both were ‘gotten rid of'; what has happened since?
    . the Staff “executive Director” is no longer with the City
    . the executive committee no longer exists with the same disruptive power
    . Rhonda Pownell, City Council position on the EDA, has asked for almost all of the corrections that mr. Engler/Summa did, and gotten some of them., and the EDA has never been restored to a full membership
    But as far as David’s desired for “autonomy”, the enabling ordinance does not allow for anything like autonomy; all major decisions are to be approved by the City Council.

    *******

    Bypassing some other differences I have with David’s list and moving on to #7: “a plan that would allow the business park to develop organically”
    I assume he means by “organically” somewhat naturally which for simplicity’s sake might be said: a biz comes to the city expressing interest in locating there, the ‘city’ replies with delight :-), and the question of infrastructure comes up, and I think in David’s “organically” it would imply development beginning next to existing water/sewer and moving ‘out’, i.e. west, with the city and the biz sharing costs.

    Now we come to the recent rumor mill, but one that must be paid attention to, given that two Councilors are info sources, as reported.
    It is said that Google had some interest in locating here, in the area next to existing infrastructure, and between or next to St. Olaf College and the NF Hospital.

    One Councilor has told a candidate that Google spoke with the “city”, and the “city” was not interested. :-(
    Another Councilor has said the Council was told about this inquiry from Google on their recent bus tour of projects, but that the inquiry was directed to St. Olaf, and therefor the “city” was not involved. :-(

    Now if two Councilors are speaking about this, albeit with not the same story, but with the same company inquiry, and the same location, I would have to assume there is truth here, and if so, it is a BFD, :-) excuse the language, and that there should be every effort to make this “inquiry” become a reality … and maybe start a trend for considering NF to be the kind of community where smart young hightech companies want to locate.

    Anybody with the ‘truth” care to comment ?
    L’Affaire of “the Google Inquiry” is current …

    We can get back to the rest of David’s list; it’s been around a long time.

    • 43.1
      Arlen Malecha says:

      Kiffi --

      Who are the two councilors that have spoken about Google having an interest in Northfield?

      -- Arlen

      • 43.1.1
        kiffi summa says:

        Arlen: I don’t wish to forward e-mail communications, and you know how people are in NF about naming names… hesitant.
        Aren’t you a realtor? ask your colleague Paul Reiland; this first came up as a comment from him at the Cow candidate forum.

  • 44
    Curt Benson says:

    David, can you expand on your points #6 and #7. What are some examples of infrastructure that streetscape money could be used for? And what do you mean by “organic” development of a business park?

    • 44.1
      David Ludescher says:

      Curt,

      The most immediate thought on infrastructure is to pay the street assessments (or rebate street assessments) for the downtown businesses. If I recall correctly, when the 5th Street and Water St. improvements were installed, not only did the adjacent property owners have to pay an assessment, but somewhere around $1.0 million was taken from the Streetscape fund to pay for the improvements.

      Regarding the term “organically”, I mean allowing developers and businesses the opportunity to tell us what is economically feasible with the herbicides and pesticides of government regulation. As the Comp Plan is currently structured, a new development in this area must be “mixed development”. In addition, a developer has to comply with a 300 page Land Development Code.

      • 44.1.1

        Having run into that code some, I am utterly mystified by large hunks of it. Reading through some of the material there felt like I’d finally found the actual regulations governing the order in which Skittles may be eaten. Or at least, something that struck me as having roughly comparable justification for being a matter for legislation.

  • 45
    kiffi summa says:

    So,David… what do you know about the Google ‘inquiry’ ?

  • 46
    norman butler says:

    Not sure if it belongs on this thread. However…

    As well as an enabling function for local businesses, the EDA is also tasked with improving the livability of our community especially that of the Downtown. Doing so increases the attractiveness not only to the residents but also to visitors and eventually to businesses thereby having a positive economic impact on our community. I personally know of four businesses that have either opted to stay in Northfield rather than relocate to the Cities or to locate or relocate to Northfield due primarily to Northfield’s perceived livability compared to other places.

    Available funds directed at this factor will be money well spent. The challenge, apart from the availability of funds of course, is to decide between competing ideas & projects. Parking, bike paths, sidewalk poetry, Riverwalk market fare etc all improve livability and have varying degrees of positive economic impact. How you subjectively assess livability and objectively measure economic impact are the work of the EDA and its support staff.

    And I wish both EDA and Staff (and the Council) would finally get their teeth into the train whistle, the most glaring example of pollution that this community faces and the absence of which would vastly improve the livability and economic potential of our downtown.

  • 47
    David Ludescher says:

    Ross,

    Ahh! The rental ordinance. I have no love for an ordinance that intentionally discriminates against one class of people.

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