EDA Moving Forward with Business Park Concept

brainstormingI 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.


  1. John S. Thomas said:

    A couple of questions:

    1. Is this land past the Hospital in Dakota or Rice County?
    My assumption is Dakota.

    2. How much land will be annexed into the city limits, and at what point? Prior to the first building being built? You cannot tax what is not annexed.

    3. Looking at that diagram, there are serious issues with intersections of HWY 19. Also, trucks take the path of least resistance, and you will see traffic headed toward HWY 3 through residential, unless you regulate against it.

    It looks like a good concept. It will be interesting to see what would go in there.

    4. Would rail access help any?

    5. How close is the property to the spur?

    6. How about Tractor Trailer access to 320th?

    7. How are you going to get folks to and from work from that isolated area.

    Thanks for sharing the concept Tracy! New Business is always good for the tax base.

    February 8, 2008
  2. John S. Thomas said:

    Also, there needs to be buffer considerations between the site and the hospital, and limitations to what can be done with that light industrial.

    You would not want anything that could have a “down wind” impact to the hospital and St. Olaf, such as flammables or chemicals.

    There should also be considerations for noise buffering such as berms and trees.

    How are you getting Water and Sewer, and can our existing facilities handle the load? Will our infrastructure need to be upgraded, and who pays for that?

    I am not being negative, I am just curious. There must be thousands of questions like that when doing a project like this.

    “If you build it, they will come…” 😎

    February 8, 2008
  3. John S. Thomas said:

    Also, I heard that there was a plan to pave the rest of 320th to Hwy 3. Can anyone confirm that?

    This would work out nice for folks like Taylor Trucking, out on 47 and Hwy 3, as they could service the facility using that route. (Much shorter than going through town on HWY 19.)

    February 8, 2008
  4. Rick Estenson said:

    To answer a couple questions from John.

    Yes this is Dakota County.

    The question of timing of annexation and the taxing of new businesses is tied into the conversations now with the Planning Commission and the City Council. Brian O’Connell could answer better on the exact process and implications of taxing. I would not for any buildings or the necessary infrastructure in place before annexatiion….this is just a first step. The land owners have completed their annexation applications and provided this type of conceptual diagram for the discussion that will follow. We can all tell that transportation is a huge issue out in that section of town and can only be decided after input from many land owners and organizations like the Dakota & Rice County & MNDOT officials. Fortunately, i think many discussions have begun and the timing could be good to get some long range decision making to compliment many of your questions.

    I have heard some discussion of a rail spur but there is much real estate to cover to get it there and I don’t know how realistic that will be to accomplish. The Land Vista folks (Larry Larson and Kevin Greene) who have worked with the farmers to get this to this position have made some statements concerning their hopes for this area but also admit they will not be the “developers” and will look to help guide the type of construction and design as best they can for a project that will take 20 to 30 years to fill up all the 400+ acres identified in the drawing.

    Getting 320th street paved all the way to Highway 3 seems quite important to the longterm transportation plans for this project and i know from conversations with Northfield Hospital management that they like to see this route completed as well and I have been told it is in the plans for perhaps as early as 2009.
    The Greenway Corridor study has some ideas and designs for bike and walking paths in this area as well and I expect they will be taken into consideration for getting workers to and from this area.

    Not sure I addressed all the questions you had in your comments but perhaps others will chime in also. Much to be figured out yet but it is encouraging to have the opportunity to have the discussion.

    Rick Estenson
    Thanks for your questions, not sure I answered them all

    February 9, 2008

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