Podcast: EDA’s Rick Estenson on commercial property and Northfield’s business parks

Rick Estenson, Tracy Davis, Ross Currier Our guest this week: Rick Estenson, chair of Northfield’s Economic Development Authority (EDA).

Rick also is a veep at First National Bank Northfield and treasurer of the Northfield Rotary Club. He denies ever having shot a poodle.

The discussion was all about the availability of commercial property in Northfield, and the possibilities for business parks.

For more on the issue, see this week’s Northfield News article titled City wants to grow business.


Click play to listen. 30 minutes.

Our radio show/podcast, Locally Grown, usually airs Wednesdays at 5:30 PM on KYMN 1080 AM. You can also subscribe to the podcast feed, or subscribe with iTunes. We seek your comments and suggestions.


  1. David Henson said:

    Great show ! Question for the experts. The statement that residential demands services and that business pays a greater percentage of tax than residential towards these services keeps being made. What is the mix in the Northfield tax base between residential and business ? Don’t get me Wrong – I am 100% pro-business but I would think that in agregate residential would dwarf business in gross taxes in Northfield – is this true ? Does business actuall pay more in gross or just a higher return per land use ?

    February 15, 2008
  2. Rick Estenson said:

    Good question Dave and one that I don’t know off the top of my head. I believe Charlene and Brian are not in the office until next week to ask them to research for us. It would be good to see the trend for a couple years to that question as well if not too difficult to obtain. I will follow up with them when they return.

    February 15, 2008
  3. kiffi summa said:

    David: The question you ask re: the tax rate on businesses vs. residences is one of the most important questions to the “saving” of small outstate downtown commercial districts.
    If you live in Northfield, and you own a residence with an estimated market value of 300,000. and also own a commercial building with the same 300,000. estimated market value, you will NOT pay the same taxes on both properties. The commercial is taxed at a significantly higher percentage than the residential. Ross can quote the exact percentage; I don’t want to make an error.
    This disparity is just one of the reasons that small downtowns all over the state are struggling. The building owners’ cost of doing business (especially commercial taxes) are not supported by the achievable rents.
    Legislators, if pushed, will tell you that the philosophy behind this structure is not just simply to have commercial support/subsidize residential; there are more VOTES in the residential group than there are in the commercial building owners group. So the philosophy of supporting home ownership (A good philosophy) comes at the expense of small commercial districts/downtowns, all over outstate MN (a bad, or at least non-productive philosophy, if you believe in sustaining small towns.)
    Do you want independent small towns? or do you want residential areas serviced by ubiquitous highway strips?
    I would be very pleased to see the bank I use, 1st Nat’l of Northfield, have an officer who focussed solely on this aspect of small town economic health, benefitting not only Northfield, but providing leadership for reform across the state.

    February 15, 2008
  4. Scott Neal said:

    Minnesota uses a unique concept in its taxation of real estate called “tax capacity”. A local government establishes a tax rate and then applies it against a property’s tax capacity.

    The tax capacity of a homesteaded residential property is 1% of its assessed value up to $500,000. The tax capacity of any additional value of a homesteaded residential property over $500,000 is 1.25%.

    For a commercial/industrial parcel (C/I), however, the tax capacity is calculated differently. It is 1.5% of the first $150,000 of assessed value, followed by 2% of all assessed value over $150,000.

    So let’s do the math. If you own the home in which you live and it’s valued at $300,000 its tax capacity is $300,000 x 1% = $3,000. Now, let’s say that your city has a tax rate of 1.25%. Your tax bill would be calculated by multiplying the tax capacity by the tax rate: $3,000 x 1.25% = $3,750.

    Now, let say that you own a small business valued at $300,00. You calcuate your tax liability using the same formula, but with different factors. The tax capacity of the first $150,000 of value is 1.5%: $150,000 x 1.5% = $2,250. Assuming this property is in the same town as the residential example and the city has a tax rate of 1.25%: $2,250 x 1.25% = $2,812.

    But we’re not done yet. The tax capcity rate for the value over $150,000 is 2%. In this example there is an additional $150,000 (the total value we started with was $300,000). Take this $150,000 x 2% = $3,000. Take this tax capcity and multiply it against the 1.25% rate and get = $3,750.

    Add $2,812 to $3,750 and you get $6,562 in tax payable for this $300,000 C/I property compared to $3,750 tax bill for the $300,000 residential home.

    That’s the Minnesota property tax system.

    February 15, 2008
  5. David Henson said:

    I found this property tax information on Minneapolis – it appears that commercial property, at least there, is paying for far less of the government services as a percentage of budget than in the past and residents are paying far more.

    “For taxes payable in 1997, Minneapolis commercial and industrial property paid 56 percent of the total taxes for the City; for taxes payable 2008 this
    declined to 34 percent of the City total. Corresponding percentages for residential property show that this class paid 32 percent of the City’s taxes in 1997; it is estimated that this percentage will be 57 percent for payable 2008. This represents a complete reversal in the share of the City’s tax
    burden between the two property types.”

    February 16, 2008
  6. John McCarthy said:

    Both Scott Neal and David Henson are right in pointing out the complications in Minnesota’s method of taxing real estate. Each local government taxing unit has slightly different needs and tax levies. There are also different distributions of types of taxable property (commercial, residential, etc.) in a local unit.
    Scott’s example of a rate of 1.25% is based on what may be a typical city and is made up of county, city, school and special levy components. Research on the League of Minnesota City’s website indicates an average 2007 local tax
    rate for all Minnesota cites of 1.0225% with the average city rate being 0.3609%. The total local tax rate for Northfield was 0.9718% with the city’s rate being 0.3563%.
    In 2007, residential homestead taxpayers in Northfield had a market value (MV) of 70.64% of total MV and a tax capacity (TC) of 61.70% of total TC. Commercial-Industrial’s (C/I) MV was 14.05% of total MV and had a TC of 28.27%. So from a percentage standpoint, in Northfield, homestead properties pay over 2 times the taxes of C/I properties.
    Another factor in taxes is assessed value. For example a business located on Division St. may have their property assessed at $25.00 / square foot where a residential property of compariable size located one block away on Washington St. is assessed at $8.20 / sq. ft. With the higher tax rate and the higher assessed value, individual C/I properties usually pay a higher amount than indivudual residential properties.
    An arguement could be made that C/I properties require more services than residential propeties on an individual basis so their tax rates need to be higher. They often require public parking for customers and employees, they require a higher level of public safety (police/fire etc.), they demand more infrastructure so their deliveries, employees and customers can reach the business in a timely manner and the list could go on.
    Business also receives tax advantages when paying income tax which some folks consider a little more progressive than real estate taxes. Unfortunately, the tax arguement is often pits one method against the other without looking at the inpact on the whole.

    February 17, 2008
  7. David Henson said:

    Thanks for educating us Scott and John.

    I was trying to explore the actual costs of services and what the police and fire breakdowns as percentages would be between residential and commercial. I could not find Police statistics but fire seemed about even although on an asset protection value (excluding life) one would think commercial is getting more risk protection.

    What really jumped out but is somewhat off topic is that: From 1996 to 2002, 36% of Minnesota’s fire fatalities had alcohol levels of 0.1 or higher.

    This probably won’t make me popular at Policy & Pint (with Norman anyway) but I keep wondering why Alcohol consumption does not require it’s own Alcohol consumption license. This way when someones abuse of alcohol has cost society in dollars (DWI, Domestics, Fire, etc.) their license to drink could be suspended. I consider myself a die hard libertarian but one just cannot ignore the huge cost to society of alcohol abuse.

    February 17, 2008
  8. John McCarthy said:

    David, Interesting comment on the realtionship between fire fatalities and alcohol. Where is the statistic from and what is the basis for it?

    February 17, 2008
  9. Tracy Davis said:

    When TIP Strategies did the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan in 2006, part of their extremely thorough research included some deep digging to determine the REAL cost of infrastructure and services in Northfield, broken down by residential and commercial/industrial. The short, general answer is that residential did not pay its own way, C/I did. The city portion of residential taxes does not cover the cost of infrastructure and services they require. Hence, residential growth unbalanced by a tax increase or broader C/I tax base is a problem for Northfield.

    I don’t even know if I have that background data in my enormous archive or not, but it’s get-at-able. I will try to find it so I can post the numbers here.

    February 17, 2008
  10. Larry DeBoer said:

    One area of Northfield property tax that seems to be “verboten” in all of our discussions is the fact that our two beautiful colleges don’t pay any property tax on all the land they own in Northfield. And each year, lot by lot, block by block, street by street, the colleges take more land off the city tax base. It’s perfectly legal by MN Statute, but the city built those streets with accompanying infrastructure, and approved the building permits, with expectations that the property would pay back the city for years and years. Once the college buys the property, takes it off the tax base, the city is shorted its planned long term revenue stream.
    I would like to see someone show the hard financial data that shows how much the colleges contribute to the city over and above the resulting loss of the residential tax base.

    February 17, 2008
  11. David Ludescher said:


    While you are getting your numbers, could you also get numbers on the amount of non-taxpaying land? I heard a statistic that almost 50% of the land within Northfield does not pay taxes.

    February 18, 2008
  12. Ross Currier said:

    Larry and David:

    While you two are “evaluating” the colleges’ impact on the local economy, perhaps you should include an additional factor in your model…the number of jobs generated by Carleton and St. Olaf. They are the number three and number one employers in town. I believe that their employees comprise almost 25% of the the total jobs and if you add the jobs in town that really exist to supply and service the college employees and college students, I’m sure that a good one-third of all jobs in Northfield exist because of the colleges.

    February 19, 2008
  13. kiffi summa said:

    When I first moved here in 1995, there was a rather vocal and what I thought to be extremely adversarial town/gown attitude expressed by some voices. I was surprised at that, because without the colleges, what would Northfield be? Lonsdale, minus the river? And I don’t mean to disparage Lonsdale; the colleges simply create a different atmosphere, by the magnitude of their presence.
    So, Larry and David, you seem to have an agenda in your questions re: non-taxpaying land, and if those questions are sincerely tied to economics then I think you should ask them more directly.
    I would ask you, how do you evaluate the benefits of the colleges as weighed against the non-taxpaying acreage? If that is what you are getting at, please make your case, rather than just putting an implication out there.

    February 19, 2008
  14. Ross and Kiffi,

    I couldn’t agree more. Northfield simply would not be Northfield, in both size and character, without the colleges. In addition to the jobs and businesses that the colleges directly and indirectly provide (as Ross alluded to), how many homes are owned by people who might simply not be here if it were not for those two institutions? What do the colleges do for home value in Northfield? How much tax revenue is generated by those homes and by the value added to those homes by location in a college town?

    Would other businesses be drawn here without the colleges? Some would, some certainly would not.

    I think people look around, see Northfield as it is now, and wish the colleges paid property taxes to boost local revenues. Seems logical until you realize that a huge portion of Northfield would probably not even be here; indeed, you might be living in another town, perhaps a town that had a college or two to support a much larger tax base and larger population to support your profession. In that town, you could also look around and ask the same question, and get the same answer.

    The colleges have been intrinsic in Northfield’s development. They are linked to and inseparable from Northfield’s historic and future well-being.

    Obviously, businesses, like Malt-O-Meal, have been and continue to be an enormous benefit to Northfield in much the same way. MOM pays property taxes, the colleges do not, and I believe that’s because lawmakers prioritized supporting non-profit endeavors as tools for growing and maintaining our communities. That being said, many for-profit businesses are also frequently offered tax benefits and incentives for locating in certain areas and for developing new initiatives or operations in their existing locations. Someone with more knowledge than me about the rationale for non-profit tax exemptions and for-profit tax incentives should weigh in here.

    I hope that both the non-profit property tax exemption and for-profit tax incentives continue to facilitate responsible and healthy growth and development in Northfield.

    The “colleges should pay property tax” argument has no appeal to me.

    February 19, 2008
  15. David Ludescher said:

    Ross, Kiffi, Brendon: Why is asking about non-taxpaying land a taboo question? I wasn’t asking specifically about the colleges, but if it could be broken down into which lands colleges, churches, etc need services, and which ones need minimal services parkland, wetlands etc., it might help a fruitful discussion about property taxes.

    February 19, 2008
  16. David L.,

    I never said it was a “taboo question”. Ask away. The question, itself, does not bother me. I only gave my reasons why the colleges, part of your “non-taxpaying land” group, not paying property taxes does not bother me.

    I will admit that it would take an extraordinarily well-written, comprehensive and detailed argument to convince me that the colleges should be removed from the state-wide property tax exemption for non-profit educational institutions.

    Ross and Kiffi can defend their own statements, but I didn’t get the sense that they were saying you can’t or shouldn’t ask the question.

    So, convince me. I think the three of us offered up some “fruitful discussion” about why we think Carleton and St. Olaf should not be required to pay property taxes. That’s all.

    February 19, 2008
  17. kiffi summa said:

    Not a taboo question, David; simply asking for an “endgame”……. One could explore the Cambridge Plan (Cambridge MA, at some point told Harvard and MIT that the city could no longer absorb the cost of services to those two institutions, and they devised a plan for compensation).

    Northfield city gov’t always seems to resist the idea of a “cost benefit analysis”approach; I just think the colleges make NF what it is, and would not want to see an adversarial relationship develop.

    Might it turn out that, all things considered , we “owe” them much more than they “owe” us?

    February 19, 2008
  18. Steve Wilmot said:

    While I will in general side with Ross, Kiffi, and Brendan in this thread, I’ll jump in and say that Larry actually has a valid point when it comes to the slow accretion of the East Side neighborhood adjacent to Carleton.

    Several decades ago, the neighbors near Carleton organized and got the City to begin infrastructure replacement projects to replace failing sewers, water lines, sidewalkes, and streets in the oldest part of town.

    Now when my neighborhood, several blocks to the south wants to get the same upgrades, the City can’t keep up due to its financial woes. Meanwhile, the previous project area is becoming increasingly owned by Carleton which affects the pool of taxes that will support the still much needed infrastructure replacements. (Although, I wonder if the assessments need to be paid up once the property is removed from the tax rolls.)

    February 19, 2008
  19. That’s certainly true, Steve, but it seems like, population being steady (actually rising in Northfield), each home purchased by Carleton would mean a “displaced” family would purchase or build elsewhere in town and add to the property tax roles.

    I know that’s simplistic, but it seems likely.

    I do wonder about the value-added idea. Property values in town being higher because of the colleges which would add a great deal more to the property tax pool. If infrastructure costs are not dependent on property value (my guess), then wouldn’t that represent a net gain for the city?

    February 19, 2008
  20. Steve Wilmot said:


    I would certainly agree that property values in town in general are higher because of the colleges, but I would add, and it seems to be proved true by the realtors I have spoken with, that the property values are higher near the colleges, especially so in the area between Carleton and Downtown.

    If Carleton continues to grow into this high value area, will the displaced families move to Dundas Heights, or whatever that area is called south of County 1? If they do move there, will this property be as valuable as that acquired by Carleton? It certainly has a different curb appeal…

    February 19, 2008
  21. Don’t know for sure, Steve, but it seems reasonable to expect people to pay what they can afford, whether in the old neighborhoods or newer neighborhoods. In other words, if they could have afforded the inflated prices closer to the colleges, they would likely spend the same amount on a home in a different neighborhood. Sort of a zero-sum game there, or very nearly so, unless I’m missing something, which is entirely too likely.

    February 19, 2008
  22. David Ludescher said:

    Steve: Larry’s point holds true for the whole town, not just the east side. If properties are not on the tax rolls, or are taken off, and the amount of taxes is to remain the same, the burden falls disproportionally on the C/I property. So, if taxes go up and I am a resident and business owner, I get hit once on my house, and again at 2 to 3 times the amount on my business.

    February 19, 2008
  23. Anne Bretts said:

    I think this is a very important discussion. The colleges do provide a huge benefit to the city, and they do make a voluntary payment in lieu of taxes. But Malt-O-Meal provides a huge benefit — and has no say in its tax rate.
    We have many fine nonprofits, from churches to nursing homes, and a fine tax-exempt hospital and tax-exempt clinics. In fact, 9 of the 15 largest employers in town are exempt from property taxes.
    We have had many demands to give downtown businesses a tax break. At the same time we are told the city needs to offer JOBZ, TIF and other support to new businesses. The schools need more money, the roads need work, we need a safety center and library and skate park and bike trails and ice arena.
    So Malt-O-Meal and McClane and Multek and Cardinal Glass and others are left to carry the load for others more deserving. These businesses can operate anywhere and have many offers to relocate. If they see the tax burden grow too large, we may find we’ve killed the geese who lay the golden eggs.

    February 19, 2008
  24. Larry DeBoer said:

    Kiffi asks if Dave Luedesher and I have some underlying agenda about the colleges and their non-profit, no-tax status. No one questions the importance of the colleges’ value to Northfield and the Region.

    There is no agenda other than the fact that C/I businesses are complaining about their high tax rates and most residential owners are complaining about their high individual property tax rates. I think the State of MInnesota still lists Northfield as the city with the highest residential property tax rate outside the Twin Cities Metropolitan area.

    With all the wants we have in Northfield, someone has to pay the tax bill. The colleges pay no property taxes. They do contribute a small gift each Christmas Season to the City of Northfield. It is miniscule compared to the sizeable acreages that ST. Olaf and Carleton own in the city. And it has never increased each year to relate to inflation.

    So, the rest of us – both residential and C/I have to assume all the rest of the tax burden. Both colleges continually take residential property off the city’s tax roles. Most of these property owners are not relocating to Dundas as Brendon suggests. Most are estates whose heirs are selling to the colleges. In fact it would be an interesting legal case to determine whether a private college is, in fact, a non-profit institution, when they are “gifted” thousands of acres of farm land into their endowment fund.

    But Tracy is somehow convinced that Residential property doesn’t pay it’s own share of the city services, but C/I does. The residences pay property taxes for literally decades while C/I generally change every decade or so. Maybe Tracy can explain her reasoning?

    The only agenda I have is how much more can the residential tax base and the highly-stressed downtown businesses take on when our colleges, schools, parks, city facilities and churches don’t pay into the city tax pool?

    February 19, 2008
  25. Griff Wigley said:


    We have a discussion guideline that requires you to use the first-person tense when disagreeing with people who are participating here.

    So instead of you writing, “Kiffi asks if Dave…”

    you need to instead say something like

    “Kiffi, you asked if Dave…”

    and instead of “But Tracy is somehow convinced that..” and “Maybe Tracy can explain her reasoning”

    “Tracy, you seem convinced that…” “Tracy, can you explain your reasoning”

    Make sense?

    February 19, 2008
  26. Griff Wigley said:

    Larry, here are the reports on the Citizens League web site on Property Tax Studies:

    Every year, the Citizens League produces three property tax studies: the Residential Homestead Property Tax Survey, the Tax Increment Financing Report and the Fiscal Disparities Report. The reports and associated tables (beginning in 2003) are available here.

    February 19, 2008
  27. David Henson said:

    If Carleton and St. Olaf cover their own costs of maintenance, security, sewer, garbage, campus roads etc without the benefit of property tax services then they sure do a nice job – maybe the answer is let the colleges run Northfield’s services. My favorite Northfield park is the lower arb – who pays for that ?

    Does anyone know the total Northfield residential property tax revenues and the total commercial property tax revenues (in raw numbers) ?

    February 19, 2008
  28. Steve Wilmot said:


    You are probably correct in the zero sum game in terms of how much will people pay for their house. From my perspective as a homeowner, I see 20 year old infrastructure improvements being incorporated into Carleton’s holdings and the new infrastructure being built for the new areas of town, but very little money left to keep working on the remaining older areas of town, or at least not nearly enough as the City Engineer says we have something like 17 miles of substandard infrastructure that needs to be replaced.

    My concern is less about the loss of the tax roll property as it is about my taxes subsidizing both the new growth and the past replacement projects that are being “taken out of circulation” yet my neighborhood has been on a “priority list” for the last nine years.

    Additionally, I think there is a real link between a downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. They feed off of each other in terms of vitality and walkability, but if all the investment goes to downtown and the neighborhoods become “disinvested” then that causes downtown to suffer as well.

    Of course this is more anecdotal in nature, however, from my experience it applies to cities both large and small – perception doesn’t stop where the zoning map changes use.

    February 20, 2008
  29. William Siemers said:

    I don’t think it is likely that the colleges will begin paying property taxes anytime in the near future. I do think that the city should, whether by zoning or regulation, stop the spread of the colleges into residential and community areas. Whether to protect the tax base or the character of the neighborhoods…it seems like a good idea. I too, am very grateful that the colleges are here. But it seems to me the city could be more forceful in protecting its interests.

    February 20, 2008
  30. Dan Bergeson said:

    Sorry to be late to this conversation, but I think it would be useful to correct an assumption that appears to be widely held and is not accurate. Carleton pays annual property taxes on the parcels that it owns in areas zoned by the City as residential and has for many years. This is the case whether the buildings are used for administrative or residential purposes. The college also pays the City of Northfield for the municipal services (sewer, water) that these properties require and use. The sum of these two numbers is a six figure total annually and is in addition to the annual voluntary contribution that Carleton gives to the City to use as it deems best.

    I can’t speak for St. Olaf since I don’t know whether its situation is the same in this regard.

    (Full disclosure: I’m a Carleton employee.)

    February 20, 2008
  31. David Ludescher said:

    The colleges and commercial/industrial (C/I) land present the opposite ends of the spectrum on the property tax issue.

    One of the (many) reasons that the Chamber has been pushing for C/I land is that additional C/I land brings in more tax revenue as business expand and relocate. We believe that it generates more property tax than it expends in services (notwithstanding John McCarthy’s comments). The colleges do not pay any property taxes, and still require services.

    I don’t know what the percentages are. But, I look forward to seeing what Tracy digs up.

    February 20, 2008
  32. Rick Estenson said:

    I pulled out a copy of the Comprehensive Economic Development Report from the TIP Strategies June 2006 work and found a number of interesting facts relative to the reasons they recommended we focus on Commercial/Industrial development (you may wish to locate a copy of the 98 page report and thumb through it once again). On page 11 of the report you will find they mention of the cost of community services from a study of 70 Cities across the country by the American Farmland Trust. It states they found C/I land required on 29 cents in services for every $1.00 of taxes paid. By comparison, residential land is a net drain, requiring $1.15 in services for each $1.00 of tax collected. While they admit it can be criticized as an oversimplification of a complex issue, I think the main point remains….healthy communities need a good mix of business/jobs and residential.

    February 20, 2008
  33. Ray Cox said:

    Some very good comments on taxes….thanks Scott, Kiffi, John and others. One thing you cannot forget in looking at commercial property is the fact that there is a ‘special’ line item for state general tax. This is something that residential properties do not pay. It sends a huge amount of money to the state to be redistributed.

    In regard to Kiffi noting that there are more votes tied up with residential property than commerical property, that may be something that some legislators consider (I did not) But I do know that there are many legislators that feel commerical property burdens are spread over a wide net, so it is easier—and some feel wiser— to get money from that sector. In other words, raise commerical real estate taxes by $1,000 and the owners pass along that cost to the consumers of their products, so the widgets have to increase by .0001 per unit….or a glass of beer has to go up a penny, etc.

    Everyone concerned about commerical property tax rates should remember that there were efforts underway last legislative session to both increase the state general tax from 10% to somehwhere around 15%. Efforts will most likely be working on this again this session.

    February 20, 2008
  34. kiffi summa said:

    Dan: Your clarification on where Carleton pays taxes, i.e. for buildings they own in the residential area whether used for housing or administration immediately raises a question in my mind…….

    When the old Middle School is developed, by Carleton , as their new “Art Union” ( not sure of the name), will they pay property taxes on that multi,multi-million dollar building? Because if so, that is a HUGE bunch of tax dollars added to the community “pot”.

    Then those who feel the colleges don’t pay their share would certainly have to see that tax burden as a trade-off for moving out of the College Development Zone, and into the neighborhood.

    February 20, 2008
  35. David Henson said:

    I glanced through Northfield’s 2006 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The report does not seem to break out tax revenues as residential and commercial. The report does show that the top 10 properties as a percentage of Northfield City Tax capacity dropped from 21.95% in 1997 to 11.43% in 2006. This seems significant. The list is on page 188 of http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/2/2006-Comprehensive-Annual-Financial-Report.pdf . The list is also striking in that in 1997 the high value properties were much more industrial than in 2006.

    February 21, 2008
  36. Ruth Sylte said:

    The impact of the colleges has to be seen holistically, not just on the simple basis of the number of jobs the institutions “produce” or the taxes they do/don’t pay. Those items don’t provide a full or accurate picture.

    An interesting report would show how many of each college’s employees — broken down between exempt and non-exempt and also by annual salary cohorts — actually live in the local area. Of those, how many rent and how many pay local property taxes? in Northfield? in Dundas? in Nerstrand? etc.

    I would not be surprised the report (especially if one could run it for the past 5-20 years) shows that the number of college employees (particularly administrators and professors) who actually live in the local area — for the sake of example, specifically the defined Northfield municipal boundaries — has been decreasing over the last 20 years. But I’d like to be proved wrong if anyone can produce facts/evidence to the contrary.

    I also think it would be helpful for the City (not the colleges) to produce a report that shows exactly what parcels under the control of each college are “nonprofit” (nontaxable) and what parcels are taxable (comm? res?) and at what rate. What percentages of each college’s holdings are taxable? Perhaps the City already does this…

    There’s no denying that both colleges add great benefit to this city. That said, I think it would be appropriate — and in the best interests of the city and the colleges — to have an accurate accounting of these things so that the citizens and city government can make accurate determinations of the needs of this city. The full impact of these nonprofits on our city should be considered as important as those of our commercial and residential properties / citizens.

    As I think some others have mentioned, I would also be interested in seeing a report from the City (not the colleges) that breaks down exactly how much (both in money and time) of ALL services provided by Northfield (sewer, water, police, fire, emt, etc.) are actually being “consumed” by each of the colleges? Which of those services do the colleges pay for and how much (dollars and percentage)?

    If this kind of information is produced annually, the citizens of this city could have a better sense of what the colleges actually pay and if the “annual donations” of the colleges significantly offset the cost of providing the “unpaid” services to the colleges. If the colleges are truly paying “their share”, then there will be evidence to show that. If not, then perhaps the City and the Colleges need to rethink and possibly renegotiate their relationships for the benefit of the whole community.

    Lastly, I’m surprised that the City’s Comprehensive Financial Report does not break out revenue. I think it should in order for citizens to have a more accurate picture of the City’s economic health.

    (Full disclosure: I have been employed by each of the colleges at different times in my career — and am not currently employed by either. Like them both, but don’t think either is perfect…)

    February 22, 2008
  37. Ruth Sylte said:

    Brendon, in #20 you say “each home purchased by Carleton would mean a ‘displaced’ family would purchase or build elsewhere in town and add to the property tax roles.”

    I think if a report was produced by each of the colleges, it might show that many of the residential properties now owned by the colleges were either left to or bought by the colleges from estates or from owners willing to sell to the colleges.

    So I think it is inaccurate to used the term “displaced” when referring to the prior occupants of most of the residential properties acquired by St. Olaf and Carleton near their campuses. In many cases, there simply were no occupants to be displaced and the sales to the colleges did not result in a family creating further tax revenue for the City in a new location. Some of these properties may have gone off the tax roles and never returned. In some cases, the colleges were left a house and then sold it to a another party, pocketing the sale price but leaving the property as residential and with a property tax paying occupant.

    Again, I do not know if any report exists that would prove this and I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

    February 22, 2008
  38. So I think it is inaccurate to used the term “displaced” when referring to the prior occupants of most of the residential properties acquired by St. Olaf and Carleton near their campuses.


    That’s why I put “displaced” in quotes. I recognize it wasn’t the most accurate term to use, and that many houses purchased are actually empty or willed or estate properties. Maybe “replaced” would be better. My case was more general: population in Northfield being equal (actually rising), a family looking to move to Northfield (for whatever reason) that may have purchased one of those homes would then use that money to purchase or build elsewhere in town.

    February 22, 2008
  39. Anne Bretts said:

    And so MOM is negotiating to buy new warehouse space in Faribault, and the accompanying tax dollars will leave town (the existing operations will stay). Add that to the College City tax dollars and the Ryte Way dollars and others and it seems that the business park should be a higher city priority than liquor store or new wayfinding signs downtown. I’m not saying the other projects shouldn’t be done, but it’s going to be hard to keep paying when the folks with the checkbooks are depositing their tax money elsewhere.
    I know they wouldn’t be in the city limits, but it seems that distribution centers along I-35 make sense in cutting traffic, eliminating new road construction and creating sites that would work for tenants. Remember, while we would like new facilities in certain locations, that may not work for customers. Keeping money in the county is better than losing it completely.

    February 22, 2008
  40. Tracy Davis said:

    I’m still out of town, but I received an email from Brian O’Connell, the City’s Community Development Manager, in response to my request for information regarding the breakdown of taxes and services for C/I and residential land classifications.

    Brian told me that there was not an easy way to get at this information (“it is very complicated due to the way budgets are prepared and the way tax revenues are collected. Things are done in the aggregate and not by sub-land use category”) He said he’d look to see what data was collected by TIP and other sources and would get back to me.

    February 24, 2008
  41. Scott Neal said:

    Tracy: The City can tell you what % of its tax revenues from from C/I property and what % comes from residential. They could even break the residential % down into signle family and multi family. But I would be skeptical of any city government that says it keeps track of its service costs to C/I vs. Residential parcels. I don’t know of any city that does that.

    February 24, 2008
  42. John McCarthy said:

    Scott is exactly correct in describing how city government does not keep track of service costs / benefits to the various property classes in their jurisdiction. Rick quotes a study of 70 communities. I join Scott in being a skeptic concerning tracking the cost of services provided to different property classes. What were the definitions of the required service? If the study was nationwide, every city and state has slightly different ways of funding and providing service. Was education a service required by residences and not C/I? As Scott points out, the revenues from different property classess can be easily determined, but not the expenses.

    I believe an argument could be made that even within the commercial class there are different service requirements. Do big boxes pay more for services required than compact downtowns? This does not even take into account industrial which may the highest taxed of all for services required. What part of what street services C/I and what part services residential? And of course, how do exempt properties fit in?

    The table that is the quality of life in Northfield stands on many legs. I suggest it cannot carry all of the weight if the legs keep trying to support only the weight directly above them. As Rick said a couple of days ago ………healthy communities need a good mix of business/jobs and residential.

    February 24, 2008
  43. David Henson said:

    Scott or John – am I reading the Northfield budget report correctly that revenues jumped from $21 million in 2005 to $29 million in 2006 ? Is this a true ongoing revenue gain or does government accounting create swings like this ?

    Also, can you shed light on the approx $5.0 million increase from “charges for services”, 2.5 million of these services are classed as “Governmental Type Activities” and 2.5 million as “Business Type Activities.” The business type activities had 2005 revenue of $7.8 million and expenses of $7.4 million – these same revenues were $10.5 million in 2006 with almost the same expenses of $7.4 million – THATS A GOOD BUSINESS! What are these services ?

    THANKS !

    February 25, 2008
  44. David Ludescher said:

    I certainly hope that Northfield doesn’t lose this opportunity. If Northfield passes it up, I am going to recommend to the Chamber that we try to focus our efforts in Dundas.

    February 27, 2008
  45. kiffi summa said:

    David: I find it difficult to see the productiveness of your position in your comment, #45. I go to almost all the council meetings, and I can honestly say it is only very rarely that I have seen the Chamber there advocating a position to the city council.

    How would you be benefitting Northfield and your NF Members, by advocating “concentrating your efforts in Dundas” ? That sounds like a purely punitive reaction.

    If the Chamber is working on advocating for a specific policy in Northfield, they must be doing it “behind closed doors”, and not directly, publicly, to the decision makers. Wouldn’t your members gain by a public expression of the policies you feel would benefit business in Northfield; that public understanding then building support for your position?

    February 27, 2008
  46. David Ludescher said:


    The Northfield AREA Chamber passed a resolution almost three years ago advocating that at least 320 acres be dedicated for commercial/industrial land. We haven’t been keeping it a secret. The Planning Commission was aware of it in drafting the Comprehensive Plan. They chose to focus more on mixed used development.

    If that proves too difficult, or the Planning Commission is opposed based upon destroying the “small town feel”, then the Chamber has no choice but to look in the AREA for someplace else for our members and incoming business (as College City Beverage had to do).

    Many thanks to the EDA, Rick Estenson, and others for trying to move along the business park concept.

    February 28, 2008
  47. David Henson said:

    There is a relatively new “business park” – actually less park and more business located in Mpls around the area of Stinson and 35W that is a horse shoe building with Semi Truck Service to the back inside the horseshoe. The building has been very popular from the moment it opened and has a look much more in keeping with Northfield than say the business park of Cedar Ave in Lakeville. I think the businesses actually prefer being close to each other for a host of reasons. Now that I think about it – what is the logic for the “park” in “business park,” is it just to use up more land or is there a real purpose ?

    February 28, 2008
  48. Tracy Davis said:


    At the risk of redundancy, I have to quote from the Economic Development Plan – research and advice from a company with an excellent perspective developed from intensive experience on a national and international level – which was adopted by the City council about 18 months ago:

    Because of current market considerations and the potential for negative impacts we recommend a site of no more than 120 acres. Accommodating the expansion needs of existing business should be the initial focus. Subsequent marketing of properties should be targeted to the industry sectors outlined in this plan. (emphasis mine)

    Size DOES matter; scale can make or break a building, a project, or a town. I am extremely concerned that a large 300+ acre “business park” be justified on grounds other than the very speculative “If you build it, they will come.” So far, I haven’t heard that justification.

    February 28, 2008
  49. Ross Currier said:

    David –

    I won’t speak for the entire Planning Commission but I will speak for myself. You have completely, totally and, I believe, intentionally, misrepresented at least my opinion on the business park.

    Your one true, again in my opinion, statement is the Chamber has sent us one or two letters over the past two or three years championing the creation of a 320 acre business park northwest of the hospital. In fact, the Chamber called that location the “only reasonable” site for the creation of additional commercial/industrial land.

    If you had attended the joint Planning Commission – EDA Work Session on Tuesday night, you would have heard each and every Planning Commissioner state that he or she recognizes that Northfield is in great need of additional jobs and tax base and that increasing the supply of commercial/industrial is a key step toward that goal and that they are committed to working with the EDA to realize this objective.

    One of the questions that the Planning Commission has been asking for the past two or three years is how much land do we really need to add. Although the Chamber (based on what information, we don’t know) says we need 320 acres, the Land Use consultants said 120 acres. The EDA has suggested 220 acres, perhaps splitting the difference. In fact, several months ago, Planning Commissioner Tracy Davis and I attended a Chamber Board meeting to discuss this specific topic and to try to gain clarity on the matter. The result of that meeting seemed to indicate, at least to me, that the source of this recommendation is the collective wisdom of the Chamber Board, for which I have great and sincere respect.

    Another question the Planning Commission has been studying is the Chamber’s claim that the property northwest of the hospital is the “only reasonable” property for the expansion of commercial/industrial land. In fact, it is clear, at least to me, that the members of the EDA also have strongly favored this location. On the other hand, several Planning Commissioners have repeatedly asked about sites west of Armstrong Road and south of Highway 19 and directly north, along Highway 3 and the railroad lines. For about 18 months, we have been told by the “leaders” and “experts” that they were impossible and did not even merit serious discussion. In the past few months, and even few weeks, we have found that they are not impossible, may be possible, and, in fact, could even offer great potential. I, for one, am glad that the Planning Commissioners continued to ask these questions for the past 18 months.

    Finally, there is the annoying but essential question related to the Future Land Use Map. Not many non-Planning Commissioners know this fact, but we Commissioners are really supposed to base our decisions on this important, perhaps most important, document. On the Future Land Use Map there are two areas of particular interest for Annexation questions, the Priority Growth Area and the Urban Expansion Area. We are supposed to Annex land that is in one of these two areas. Fortunately, there are over 1,500 acres in these two areas. Over the past 12 months, the Planning Commissioners seem, to me, to have come to the conclusion, based on comments made in our public meetings, that if we annex in some of these 1,500 acres, it should be for commercial/industrial purposes.

    The West Armstrong and North/Waterford sites are clearly within these Priority Growth and Urban Expansion Areas. According to members of the City Staff and the EDA, a portion of the Northwest Territory is in the Urban Expansion Area. Unfortunately, no one brought a map documenting this fact.

    Perhaps most importantly for me and at least, seemingly to me, one other member of the Planning Commission, there is the question of infrastructure costs. Our Comp Plan says that we must consider this cost in contemplating annexation. In fact, I have read somewhere in the Northfield Chamber of Commerce material that land use decisions should include not only the cost of infrastructure but also the sources to pay for this cost. It strikes me as sound business analysis. The Planning Commission was respectful but clear that an estimate of potential infrastructure costs, or as one Commissioner put it, a cost-benefit analysis, would be an important bit of information to have when considering annexation.

    There was some discussion about the need to have commercial/industrial land expansion, where ever it may be, add to, rather than detract from, Northfield’s “sense of place”. I will note, once again because you weren’t at the Work Session, that all members of both the Planning Commission and the EDA seemed to support this concern. In fact one member of the EDA, who happens to be a strong supporter of the Chamber, and a member of the Planning Commission, who is not a strong supporter of the Chamber, had a side discussion about the need to be either a low cost producer or a high quality provide when competing in business. They both agreed that Northfield faced challenges in being the low cost producer and so needed to leverage the high quality provisions from its assets. One of the those assets was universally recognized as Northfield’s “sense of place”.

    Finally, you repeat your dislike for “mixed use”. In fact, the concept sketch for the business park in the northwest territory had a rather large portion of Phase 2 of the project drawn as “mixed use”. I asked why if we needed commercial/industrial land would we be annexing land in order to create “mixed use” in our business park. I was told that it was just an idea and didn’t have to be part of the project.

    I believe that Planning Commission is hoping to have the questions raised Tuesday night answered when the topic of annexation comes before us. Personally, I also hope that you, David Ludescher, will be able to attend that meeting. I think that I can safely speak for all of the Planning Commissioners when I say that we greatly and sincerely value your comments.

    – Ross

    February 28, 2008
  50. David Ludescher said:

    A number of comments to several good posts:

    1. Annexation only allows for the possibility of development. It does not mean it has to be developed. But, nothing can be done without annexation.
    2. 320 acres was recommended because it allowed for future growth. 120 acres could probably used up by the time it was built.
    3. The Armstrong Road was considered. There are numerous obstacles, many environmental, plus the amount of land is not significant enough to accomodate the future.
    4. A 320 acre site does not mean that it has to be developed at one time. It does allow for more than just haphazard development as the need continues to arise.
    5. The interested parties in the NW quadrant were told that they had to include parkland, and housing in the mix of the concept plan because the development principles called for such development.
    6. Tracy and Ross did come to the Chamber meeting and we reviewed the Chamber’s goal of 320 acres. Unfortunately, that goal was not included in the Comp Plan.
    7. The 120 acre plan was limited – in large part to preserve the “sense of place” that the consultants thought that Northfield wanted to preserve. It was not based upon an economic model of what the Northfield business enviroment needed or could support.
    8. We have some willing sellers. This may not be something that we have in the future.
    9. Perhaps most importantly, to quote Tracy, “Size DOES matter”. A small business park is unlikely to attract many businesses, result in greater prorata infrastructure costs, and increase the land costs.

    February 28, 2008
  51. Tracy Davis said:

    David, I can’t address all the points right now, but I must counter your assertion in #7 that the recommendation was “not based upon an economic model of what the Northfield business environment needed or could support”. That certainly is not true, nor what TIP Strategies wrote in the E.D. report. Where did you get that idea?

    February 28, 2008
  52. David Ludescher said:


    I got that idea because the report stated that Northfield wanted to preserve its “sense of place”. “Sense of place” was the report’s overriding concept. From reading the report, 120 acres could be introduced without destroying that “sense of place”. The Chamber thought that 120 was enough in the short term, but 320 was needed to accomodate future growth. (I think that 320 would make us a “place of sense”.)

    Remember we aren’t talking about 320 acres popping up instantly on the landscape. We are talking about 320 available for development if needed. Further, if we are talking about the kind of mixed use development the Planning Commission is recommending getting 120 acres of business development out of the 320 might be a stretch.

    February 28, 2008
  53. David Henson said:

    Northfield’s highest value business asset MOM is a mixed use environment to which quite a few employees can walk.

    February 28, 2008
  54. Tracy Davis said:

    Dave L., all I can say is that I’ve read the same report you did and came away with a different view of the extensive analysis that went into the 120-acre recommendation. It definitely WAS based on economic data, not on wishful thinking. I’d encourage everyone reading this to download the report and draw their own conclusions.

    Part of the dilemma, with which the chamber apparently disagrees, is that Northfield cannot compete with Lakeville and Faribault for large expanses of cheap land. Doesn’t it make more sense, as David H. has suggested in previous comments, that we not try to market Northfield as a commodity but rather play to our strengths, and focus on the target industries identified in the Ec Dev Report as being most compatible with what Northield does have to offer?

    I also believe there’s been a misunderstanding about both the definition and applicability of the mixed use concept in re the “business park” or land designated for commercial development. As a general philosophy, especially for infill development or redevelopment, I’d favor zoning for mixed use; but if we continue with the business park concept, limiting the land uses could be the best strategic move – depending upon the location and features of the site so designated.

    February 29, 2008
  55. Anne Bretts said:

    In all this discussion with each other, have you all talked to the industrial brokers who are the ones most likely to bring you the customers to fill an industrial park? It’s great to determine what Northfield wants, but if no one is buying what you’re selling, it seems a pretty inefficient process.
    There are a number of smart, effective industrial brokers from United Properties, Welsh, CTMT, CB Richard Ellis, etc. Kraus-Anderson has some holdings here already. Boldt Construction, which is building the new science center at St. Olaf, has people who are experts in industrial/commercial land.
    There are many people who would sit down and review your ideas and tell you what’s realistic.
    If a site is realistic, a developer will buy the land and put in the utilities and develop the site. Duke Realty just opened the 165-acre park in Otsego, a small town but one with good highway access. That highway access means the northwest quadrant is the most likely place for success. At the very least you’re going to want to have a broker working to fill the site.
    Perhaps it would be good to ask the experts — the ones who are closing the deals — to weigh in on this. It wouldn’t cost anything, except maybe lunch.
    Then you’d be able to mesh your goals with market reality — or decide that you don’t want growth.
    The ‘good news’ is that it will be about a year or two before the market starts to recover, so you have a little time. The bad news is that when it does, you’ll need to be ready to compete immediately.

    February 29, 2008
  56. David Henson said:

    I briefly looked into street cars and one thing that became quickly apparent is that land along street car tracks becomes worth a fortune. I think if Northfield could install a street car loop: that ran from Carleton , down Division, to the schools, to Target, to Dundas, to the hospital (and future business park), to St Olaf and back to Carleton – this would dramatically up the value of the town as a destination, a great place to live and a great place to locate businesses. As soon as the guys who own that land see what a street car could do to valuations they will be on board (sorry for the pun). I bet a NF brain trust with the support of the colleges could get state and federal money to partially back such a project.

    This is what it could look like http://www.gomacotrolley.com/Resources/melbourne.html

    And these “consultants” can tell Northfield the costs and benefits:

    I’ll bet if Northfield did this the brokers would be lathering to be part of development and accept any design restrictions the citizens required.

    February 29, 2008
  57. Anne Bretts said:

    David, that’s a very creative idea, but with construction costs of about $1 million a mile and operating costs in the millions each year, the ridership here wouldn’t support the investment.
    It was hard enough getting federal support to link Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the next lines are going to be north to Duluth and then possibly the Dan Patch.
    I think there might be some merit in a cleverly designed and promoted tram or bus line that could do the loop you described. Right now there is a limited bus line, but I doubt it is self-supporting.

    February 29, 2008
  58. kiffi summa said:

    All of this squabbling back and forth about interpretations of the TIP Econ. Dev. report is rather fruitless; obviously each person will make the case that supports their POV.

    Tracy obviously feels secure in her reading of the report, David L. in his……
    David L offers the COC’s resolution passed in support of 320 Ac. “to support future growth” as an argument for what is needed…….

    The EDA proposal , is I think, 400+ Ac. ; is that because that’s the sum total of what the farmers working with Land Vista want to sell?

    ****What no one is responding to here, is Ross’s well made argument for the DESIGNATION of that land, in the Future Land Use Map. ****

    The designation in the Future Land Use Map, in the Comp Plan, guides the development principles, and allows the city to react to development requests as they come up. That designation also sends the clear message to developers that the city is welcoming that type of development on that land. What could be better? It’s kind of like “having your cake and eating it, too”! It puts all the control in the hands of the city, as to how they wish to guide development. Isn’t that precisely what needs to happen?

    As soon as you annex the land, and especially WITHOUT a well developed concept plan…….which the city council in their infinite wisdom (?) has already given Land Vista a “by” on……. you have given up the city’s control on what happens on that land, as long as ordinances allow.

    This land should, to satisfy the future needs of all parties involved, be designated in the Comp plan’s Future Land Use Map……that’s the purpose of that tool……… and then see what development ideas come forth.

    To do other than that, puts the control of land that is crucial to NF’s future needs, in the hands of others; not the City, which is where that control should reside.

    February 29, 2008
  59. David Henson said:

    My understanding is that street cars are far less costly than light rail. But no doubt, the investment cost and payback would have to be considered. However the answer could be a pleasant surprise !

    February 29, 2008
  60. Anne Bretts said:

    Wouldn’t it make sense to see what the competition is from other communities, look at how they’ve failed and succeeded and see what — if any — development works for Northfield? There seems to be an awful lot of speculation on what Northfield should target, without any real information about whether those targets are reasonable. I’m not saying the city should bow to developers or businesses, but designing something without knowing whether there’s any hope of selling it seems an odd strategy.

    February 29, 2008
  61. Rick Estenson said:

    I have been meaning to weigh in on the discussion this week if only to point out that the EDA has been in discussions over the past many months with Developers who know how to put together a commercial/industrial/business park and we have asked advice on the size aspect as well as the steps it takes to complete such a project.

    Admittedly, we had these discussions with some hope in our mind that there would be several of them ready and willing to put some of their money into getting something like this done while also knowing that we would need to help explain to them what we expect the development might look like (or not look like) so they don’t waste their time or ours on a plan that has no legs. None of them immediately stepped forward to offer such a role but all of them spoke of the long term nature of such an endeavor and the importance of getting some “control” of land and selection of sites to begin the serious conversations.

    They were also of the belief (and this was later confirmed in my mind by a fellow from the Department of Employment and Economic Development for Minnesota – Gene Goddard) that this is truly a desirable community to many potential employers given our location from the Twin Cities, our good Schools, our Downtown, our proximity to an International Airport and so on just to name a few.

    The companies we have had ongoing discussions with include names you might recognize like Ryan, Opus, McGough, MetCon, Steiner, Welsh and a number of our local businesses that get involved in these types of projects as well. McGough has continued to offer us advice on the steps we are going through and I believe other Developers would be willing to reengage with us to give us some assistance from their points of view as well as time goes on.

    We have not selected any one party or group to work with exclusively on this. Just wanted you all to know that we have not tried to do this in a vacuum or without many hours of discussions with professionals. There is always a balance between coming out with a plan too prematurely versus too developed. I would like to think we have found some level of balance so that the community can affectively help shape the solutions. If we are all in agreement that we need more space for development of existing and future employers to Northfield, we then have the basis for working toward a good solution.

    I view this as a good opportunity for us to take the first steps toward actually getting something done (please don’t twist those words into believing that I don’t care about the quality of the end result or the potential impact to the character of our community). As long as we can continue to have some open discussions and public input, we can make progress.

    February 29, 2008
  62. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks so much for your comments. I was sure that with you at the helm there would be some solid market research, but I just never saw that component of the process in the comments here. The companies you have named are some of the best in the market, so it seems like everything is moving in the right direction. Great work.

    February 29, 2008
  63. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News editorial: Commercial park important for future.

    Malt-O-Meal’s decision last week to build a warehouse outside of Faribault without even having looked at Northfield, where it already has a facility, should’ve given city leaders pause. We can no longer afford to let such obvious opportunities to draw in business pass us by.

    March 1, 2008
  64. David Henson said:

    Has MOM actually stated this warehouse would have been in Northfield had there been a business park ? Is the current Northfield industrial park full ? I also have not heard too many posts against a business park as the News indicates … I think Rick mentioned that brokers want to know what the park would look like which I think is what citizens are also interested in seeing.

    March 1, 2008
  65. David Ludescher said:

    David H:

    If there is a general consensus that we (the Northfield area) need more business land, then we should annex now, and decide the design later. Annexation is more about making it possible to have more land, not about what it will look like.

    March 1, 2008
  66. Jane Moline said:

    This has been interesting reading. I just want to make a point that if companies move to Dundas, they are still in the Northfield school district and in the Northfield area for jobs. When MOM expands to Faribault, they are taking our tax base there. It would be very practical for MOM to expand close to their manufacturing, but they need to expand now and can’t wait for Northfield to find land–So, David Henson, we lost out on jobs and tax base because we did not have available land.

    I think it would be smart for Northfield and Dundas to work together to establish available industrial land in both cities (through annexation as needed) and to expand their cooperation to the surrounding townships and work with the county to get more industrial property. (The ideal location for the MOM warehouse would have been at the intersection of 35W and county 1, but that seems to be beyond the capacity of local planners.)

    That said, I have to weigh in on the property tax discussion. Scientific studies show that C/I property is a net gain for municipalities, even if some city officials want to believe otherwise. People use municipal services, complain to their city council, write letters to the editor, have domestic disputes, use drugs, drive drunk, have load parties, and fall asleep with burning candles that set their homes on fire. Corporations abide with strict building codes that include sprinklers to suppress fire, often are closed at night, and generally are law-abiding. AND they can’t vote.

    One of the basis for state-wide property tax reform during the Ventura adventure was to address this disproportionate business tax and shift the tax back on the people who vote–and the result has since been an uproar as the state cut LGA to make up for the cut in business property taxes–if we have to pay for it ourselves, we can hardly stand it.

    Before the reform, when the city council raised the local levy, it went disproportionately to business, and they couldn’t vote. Now, even though the burden is still skewed against business, we are unable to afford out municipal costs. (There is another side to the reform–Ventura had proposed an increase in Sales tax to make up for the decrease in property tax–but that never happened so the entire burden shifted to the schools and municipalities–one billion dollars a year–a loss we try to replace with local referendums.)

    So, we need to expand our tax base in C/I if we really want to get ahead–for every dollar of Commercial property we have a net gain, while for every dollar in residential property value (based on new residential, not existing) we have a net loss as we need to hire more police and provide more services when our population increases. Usually that goes hand-in-hand–when we increase our commercial/industrial, there is an increase in residential due to job opportunities–we just need a good balance so we don’t tax the businesses to death.

    David Ludescher said that we should look to Dundas, and I kinda think he was not sincere (maybe he was being sarcastic even if that is against the rules-Griff?) However, HE IS RIGHT. Northfield and Dundas should be working together as it is in their best interest to keep C/I in the Northfield School District and not argue about which city it ends up in–we really blew it with MOM by not anticipating that need.

    March 1, 2008
  67. Anne Bretts said:

    The News is exactly right. This issue has been unresolved far too long. So many other towns have a clear vision and have acted on it while Northfield still is talking about planning concepts.
    Is it true that MOM is in a dispute with McLane, which led MOM to pull out of warehouse space owned by McLane and head to Faribault? If so there’s the problem of MOM pulling out and the problem of helping McLane find a new tenant. It’s complicated by the fact that McLane owns the building, but it is simply one of several distribution centers for a big company based in Texas. That means its business is very portable, and it has enough capital to move and sit on the empty space until it sells, which could take years. (think of the giant State Farm campus sitting empty in Woodbury). With 650,000 square feet of space in the building, it would be a challenge to find another buyer or tenant.
    Now I don’t have any reason to believe McLane wants to move. I’m just saying this town can’t treat commercial property as a tax cash cow. The McLane people came to Northfield in 2002 because it had a huge building ready to go and decent access to I-35, not because it had a cute downtown or nice colleges or rolling farmland. Since it came here, many cities have developed the capability to offer it huge buildings near interstate highways.
    It doesn’t mean Northfield has to “cave” to business at the expense of everything else in town. It just means that means that Northfield needs to get sharp, get competitive and get moving to stay in the game — if commercial/industrial is the game it wants to play.

    March 1, 2008
  68. David Henson said:

    David L – I don’t think the land is going anywhere – you can be 100% sure housing won’t be taking it over soon – I don’t know about anyone else but I would think a) the city should annex everything it can get it’s hands on b) commerce is good c) an ugly business park that uses up 10 times the land required to accomodate the economic activity is the worst idea possible for Northfield and d) a super empowered design commission to protect the city’s major asset – It’s look and feel – should be added to the city charter.

    March 2, 2008
  69. Anne Bretts said:

    David H., what exactly is the look and feel you want to preserve, particularly in a business park? The high school, middle school, Bridgewater, the city public works building, the hospital and safety center all are projects where government had control and chose buildings that are the polar opposite of the principles talked about so often in limiting and cricitizing private business. Putting five-year-olds in large modern buildings for 12 years hardly instills a yearning for small, old spaces in old buildings — it makes them comfortable in big boxes (or in decent, needed facilities, depending on your point of view). It’s like putting people in cars for 50 years and asking the children who’ve never seen a train to start using one.
    The fact is that Northfield has a historic district that serves some purposes well and it has other areas that serve other purposes well — and some areas that do neither.
    I’m curious as to how you would you make an business/industrial park fit Northfield’s character? And since the feel of a town is such an ephemeral and personal thing, I am curious as to how you’d get concensus on design standards for the broad array of buildings that make up a city where government has made such modern choices.

    March 2, 2008
  70. Ray Cox said:

    Northfield has to decide what types of jobs it wants to work to attract. Some communities develop industrial parks and fill them with businesses that support all sorts of blue collar jobs. Northfield has never really done that, and really doesn’t have much to offer in that regard. We don’t train, attract or promote blue collar jobs like machinists, plastic injections, etc. Our housing costs are such that it is difficult to afford to live in Northfield for many people.

    Most of the jobs that we grow today are service related. When the area at the south edge of town was developed for businesses, the developer wisely worked with the city to create a ‘commerical/industrial’ park. The majority of the businesses there today are not really industrial and are more serivce related….such as my construction company shop. There is even a school located there now.

    Over the years when business owners have come to me to help them expand their business I find that Dundas or other communities that have land available are where the business expands. This is now true even for service related businesses. Examples are Lonsdale Painting/Trimcote and Pumper Plumbing….both ending up in Dundas. College City Beverage is a more recent example. When Astral Technology and Northfield Auto Body wanted to build their facility I worked very hard to break off a piece of land from other owners to keep them in Northfield. It took a lot more time and work but was successful. However, that only works if you have an owner that wants to wait and is willing to front some upfront costs to get the site. Now we really don’t have that option any longer as all sites are pretty much used up.

    March 2, 2008
  71. Ray (or anyone else who might know),

    What’s that open area between your company and ARTech? I’ve often wondered why no one has developed there. Seems large enough for a business about the size of yours, maybe larger. Is that tied up for some reason? Just curious. Thanks.

    March 2, 2008
  72. kiffi summa said:

    Re: Ray’s last comment. Ray, Ross Currier says that there are about 100 Ac., total, up and down highway 3 (maybe I’m wrong and that 100 Ac. includes the Armstrong road property)…….but at any rate, there IS a lot of land that is already served with infrastructure, or at least is bordering the infrastructure. I would agree there aren’t a lot of very large parcels. There are, I believe, some that are 30 AC. or so.

    What is wrong with the more conservative position of NOT annexing, but DESIGNATING land for industrial development , on the Future Land Use Map, and then retaining the control of the use of that land when a concept plan comes in with the annexation request?

    This seems to me to be the position to be in; why would those that favor annexation not want to have MORE control ,rather than less?

    Please explain…….

    March 2, 2008
  73. Ray Cox said:

    The open area south of my shop and north of ARTech is vacant land owned by the owners of the ARTech building. They desire to keep the land and building together, so that a future user may purchase the whole site, allowing for expansion of the facility. Right now if the ARTech building were to expand it would most likely need the vacant land. It is generally easier to sell commerical/industrial property if it has some additional land.

    March 2, 2008
  74. David Henson said:

    Anne – I agree that the cat is part way out of the bag. I never meet people that really want Northfield to become suburban in scale so I would estimate a consensus could be had as to a “human scale” vision for Northfield. Achieving the vision would require constant discipline which is why I would suggest some type of constitutional commission were the community to attempt a “change” of direction. I am not a fan of the new public buildings in Northfield. I will take it easy on the schools except to say the image of the rush hour traffic jam every morning at the Middle School is like a poster child for thinking critically about design. I think the city hall should be kept downtown but I am sure some invisible force will push towards a big sprawling monstrosity out by the hospital. I think MOM is industrial and fits Northfield’s character. I think that original character involved a lot of pride in building aesthetics, smaller footprints, more density and a greater sense of community.

    March 2, 2008
  75. Tracy Davis said:

    I just read the Northfield News editorial that Griff referred to in comment #65. Near the beginning of the editorial, the News states, “Members of the city’s Planning Commission expressed concerns that commercial growth could hurt the city.”

    Since I missed last Tuesday’s meeting, I can’t say whether anyone from the News was actually present; the statement is so bizarre it makes me think either they were not, or perhaps the News rep has narcolepsy and missed every other sentence in the discussion.

    At no time over the past several months, in any of our discussions of the Comp Plan or in working with the EDA on the business park concept, have I EVER heard anyone on the Planning Commission express concern that “commercial growth could hurt the city”. On the contrary, I believe I have heard each member of the Planning Commission at one time or another talk about the importance of working to ameliorate the problems created by unbalanced residential growth over the past couple of decades.

    The best possible construction I could put on it is that the News rep may have woken up and tuned in to part of a discussion about the importance of HOW growth occurs. Otherwise, there’s no way to account for this statement which on its face is simply false.

    March 2, 2008
  76. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: I think that the newspaper’s editorial is a fairly accurate representation of the Planning Commission’s approach in the Development Principles and the Comp Plan. On one hand, the Planning Commission has paid lip service to the idea of a business park concept, but when it comes time to put words on paper, there is much more talk about bicycles, pedestrians, mixed use development, and other concepts which, even if not intentionally business unfriendly, nevertheless indicate to present and prospective businesses that business is a low priority.

    Jane: I wasn’t being sarcastic about looking for land in Dundas. The Chamber is the Nfld AREA CoC. The Chamber decided to add Highway 1to its transportation priorities so we could support our members in Dundas and southern Northfield. I think it makes sense to have Dundas and Northfield coordinate their activities on a business park. So, if Dundas has some ideas on a business park, let the Chamber know.

    March 2, 2008
  77. Ray Cox said:

    Anne, I’m not sure about the 100 Acre statement. The best thing to do is to look at a zoning map and also a vacant land map and compare them. I do know there are no big parcels of land available. The city had a very difficult time putting together just one rather difficult site for College City Beverage. We had to stack up against the Dundas location that offered much more area.

    A few years ago I went into visit with the Com. Dev. Director. I was trying to locate a site for a business. He showed me a three ring binder of available sites. As I flipped through the binder I came to my construction company site. He had colored the rear 3 acre parcel as ‘available’. I pointed out that the site was not available. He stated that since it was vacant land in a C/I zone he put it in the binder. There is a big difference between vacant land and available land. As I noted in an earlier post, many businesses have vacant land as part of their overall site to provide future expansion.

    David, your comments about the schools point out one of Northfield’s other shortcomings….planning/process. I was on the school board when we started to plan for a new elementary school. The first thing we did was stop at city hall to meet with the planner and find out where the city would like us to locate a school. The reply was ‘you can put it anywhere you want because it can go in any zone with a conditional use permit’. We responded that ‘yes, we understood that, but wasn’t there a specific part of the city that city planners would like to see a new elementary school, and the associated utility work, located?’ The answer remained the same.
    Some years ago we had already purchased 60 acres of land for a future Middle School. Without any city support we ended up deciding to take 15 acres of our Middle School site and use it for Bridgewater, and then purchase another 15 acres at the south end of the Middle School site to keep our required 60 acres. The problem here is the city shouldn’t have relied on the school board for city planning. I tried hard to get the city involved in our process, but they only wanted to react to our proposals, not advocate for any of their ideas. I never liked that as I thought a city planning should be less passive and more involved in true planning.

    It is important to have a vision for Northfield and have the staff and supporting members promote that vision. When a school board comes forward and asks ‘where shall we locate a school’ there should be a happy, immediate, thoughtful response. Same for most business inquiries.

    March 3, 2008
  78. David Ludescher said:

    Ray: Good point about the difference between vacant and available land.

    When the schools and the hospital built their sprawling, big box facilities, I don’t remember the citizens complaining about preserving the “sense of place”, and destroying our biggest asset – the “look and feel” of Northfield.

    If anything public institutions should be held to a higher standard than private companies because the cost of the higher standards is borne more fairly.

    March 3, 2008
  79. Anne Bretts said:

    David L., thanks for your comments. I wasn’t in town when all those projects happened, so I was baffled by how they fit into this sense of place thing, which I still haven’t seen carried out in any meaningful way.
    I do think there are ways to reclaim the safety center site and eventually work with property owners to redevelop the Q block so that downtown is connected to the highway in a way that conveys that sense of place. The idea of a historic district in a modern town makes sense, and really integrating all the space from the veterans park to the Crossing along both sides of Hwy 3 and both sides of the river seems more doable than some massive sense of place discussion involving the hospital and industrial parks and the soccer fields. I think the Ames Mill and the bike trail and the river and the railroad make nice anchors that could provide an architectural theme.
    I think a 20-year plan could include a new commercial building in a Depot theme (or a city hall) in the Q block, a bandshell in Ames Park, some great redevelopment of the safety center, a public or private redevelopment of the riverfront mall to highlight the river side, all of those would be reasonable and attainable ways of expanding and highlighting the city’s assets, while linking the downtown to the highway. Remember, with a 20-year-plan, projects could be done as properties become available and developers are found, so there wouldn’t be a legal fight over forced redevelopment.
    Wouldn’t it be great if all the city’s architects and planners and the planners of the colleges could focus on a look and style for that area that would breathe life into the phrase ‘sense of place.’

    March 3, 2008
  80. William Siemers said:

    I don’t have much experience with, or historical knowledge of, the myriad of ‘plans’ referenced in this thread. But I would still like to raise a few comments.

    I drove past the hospital yesterday. I do not understand how building a 320 acre business park (someday) on this land would interfere with Northfield’s ‘sense of place’. It’s a corn field adjacent to a fairly generic hospital campus, that itself is seperated from any distinctive part of Northfield by quite a ways. Granted, St. Olaf’s campus is up on the hill in the distance…but let’s face it…aren’t those students living in the high rises already looking out on quite a bit of sprawl. And in any case they are by no means close by the prospective site.

    Regarding preserving/protecting ‘sense of place’ in a more general sense: It seems to me to be a rather hard to define concept. Everyplace has a ‘sense’. And everyone has a different sense of those places. It’s a very personal idea. I prefer to think in terms of protecting and preserving the distinctive sense of a place. At least that is something about which an agreement or a consensus can be reached.

    Northfield has a great downtown including the river area. The college campuses add to the attractiveness of the town. To me that’s it. That’s our distinctive ‘place’. The rest of the town has some nice places and some not so nice. We have what scores of other towns in SE Minnesota have. I agree with preserving our distinctive sense of place, but how can it be preserved where it doesn’t exist….particularly in an empty field.

    I also don’t understand why a business park should be small…in keeping with Northfield’s ‘scale’. What is the ‘scale’ anyway? It seems to me that there are any number of ‘scales’ in town. From huge warehouse complexes to tiny boutiques.

    On the face of it, much of the opposition to this idea seems to be various planning agencies protecting their turf. This is well and good…that’s why they made their plans after all. But sometime new opportunities arise that force a new look at existing plans and quick action becomes essential.

    The acquisition and annextion of this land seems like a good idea for Northfield. Worst case, pending development, maybe it can be rented out as crop land….

    March 3, 2008
  81. Rick Estenson said:

    I wanted to make a brief comment here about my take on the meeting the other night with the EDA and the PLanning Commission concerning the potential annexation of additional land to our NW that the paper covered and then this string of conversations has commented on as well. Perhaps it is because I have met with many of the individuals involved in smaller groups that I have a view of their questions in a different light. It has seemed to me that everyone on the Planning Commission is delighted at the prospect of gaining additional land for C/I development and they understand the importance to our tax base and health of the community. The fact that they ask questions at this time that might have a tone of some question as to it being in our best interest as a community (either financially or otherwise) does not rile me up too much because it is through this process of hearing many questions that we get to improved answers of our collective goals. It is great that we live in an environment where people can ask hard questions, get the best answers available at the time and then take the appropriate action by voting yes or no. It takes a simple majority to accomplish and often we look for unanimous votes but we are designed for a system that is intended to be ruled by the majority.

    So, I would encourage the Northfield News & others to not try to sensationalize any of the disputes as if this is another great divide in our community until it is crystal clear that that is the case (and I am not suggested they necessarily have at this point). Each of you commenting on this thread can also obviously, ask/comment away but since the future is no more clear to us today than it was about today just a short year ago, please don’t expect hard evidence on every question. The topic of keeping a sense of place was commented on by the TIP Consultants as an important element of our uniqueness so it seems like a sensible discussion to me but several of you are correct in my mind that this is a very subjective measure with a number of built in assumptions that are often hard to peel back and identify.

    In summary, while I remain convinced we should look at this annexation possibilty as good for us and only the first step of many that will lead us to more available C/I land to offer to existing and future employers in Northfield, this is a good time to get a lot of the questions and concerns out on the table. Let’s not beat one another up for asking or assuming things or stating their views because it is through this open process we can hopefully reach a good decision for the community for the next couple decades.

    March 3, 2008
  82. David Henson said:

    Here is an example of a commercial building with an Ag feel :

    Human is scale would just mean being able to say to your child, “why don’t you ride your bike over and meet me for lunch at the building” as an extreme example of accessibility. Something one could easily do if you worked at MOM (allowing for crossing 19), or the current City Hall, or the old Hospital, or downtown.

    March 3, 2008

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