I spoke with Economic Development Authority president Rick Estenson yesterday and he sent me the “land committee” update from that morning’s EDA meeting, which will probably be presented to the City Council as a work plan update next Monday.
The EDA work plan for the past couple of years has included exploring a number of strategies for increasing availability of commercial land. Out of that have come several ideas which are in the process of being shaped, including this very preliminary, early, rough draft, tack-on-every-possible-disclaimer concept sketch for a possible business park.
The EDA has long been aware of Northfield’s need to increase its commercial tax base if the City is to continue to offer the kind of infrastructure and services that its residents require. Northfield just built a new swimming pool, and plans for a skate park, ice arena, expanded library, and other amenities are well underway. These things can’t be supported by residential property taxes (unless we’re all willing to vote in favor of a referendum to increase them by, oh, several hundred percent. No? I thought not.) In addition to increasing its tax base, Northfield would benefit greatly if more people who lived here were also able to work here, as some of the discussion on Ross’s recent transportation post has also indicated. Increasing jobs and commercial tax base is the focus of the EDA, per the enabling resolution done when the EDA was formed in the early 90s.
In his email with the documents, Rick said,
I hope the readers in the blog know that this is still very early on in the process and therefore have time to help shape and determine the next best steps for Northfield. We will all agree, I am sure, that there are many infill and redevelopment opportunities as well as keeping our downtown vibrant and active that are of equal importance to the community so we need to find a balance together on those goals. We are certainly not suggesting we put all our eggs in one basket with this project but to be ready to respond to other opportunities as well with our all too limited resources. Furthermore, I hope to have some informational sessions during the next few weeks with the students and faculty on the St. Olaf campus, and the neighbors to this area.
Here’s a bit of background. One of the strongest recommendations in the 2006 Economic Development Plan done by TIP Strategies (found in our Documents section) was to increase the availability of commercial land. In the executive summary of the E.D. Plan, TIP was very clear:
While rapid suburban development is a national pattern – resulting in communities with no real sense of identity – Northfield has defied the odds in maintaining both its own employment base and its downtown core. These advantages, however, are no guarantee that growth will occur in a way that is economically viable . . . The [economic development] plan is a response to the leadership’s desire to make economic development a priority while balancing the community’s desire to protect its identity as a “freestanding” community and maintain its sense of place.
Most importantly, though, this plan is intended to sound an alarm (emphasis in original). Northfield is an exceptional community, easily deserving of its reputation as one of America’s most appealing small cities. Preserving the city’s quality of place, however, will come at a cost. Northfield’s ability to offer a mix of employment opportunities, to maintain and enhance the downtown, and to provide the level of services that current and future residents demand will hinge on the community’s commitment to pursuing specific economic development objectives – and to doing so in a highly visible manner.
Yep, I slurped down that tasty TIP Strategies kool-aid, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Rick and others working with the EDA have put an incredible amount of time and effort into getting the discussion up to this point, and I hope that they’ll continue to engage with the community as we all try to move forward in building a better Northfield.
And as an aside – First National Bank should get a “good commercial citizen” award for the amount of time that they allow Rick to work on these issues. Without the time and energy of volunteers like Rick, a lot of things wouldn’t happen in this town.