EDA Holds Informational Event on Future Business Park

NorthWestTerritories.jpgThe Northfield Economic Development Authority is hosting an informational event on the proposed business park. The event is this Thursday, August 21st, 7 pm, in the Viking Theater of Buntrock Commons on the St. Olaf College campus.

The property being discussed is the 530 acre parcel located to the northwest of the hospital in Greenvale Township that the City is currently working to annex into Northfield. According to the press release, topics to be discussed include the process for preparing a master plan for the site, the status of required environmental assessments, and the estimated cost to complete the project.

The EDA’s consultants, Dunbar Development and Loucks Associates, as well as members of the EDA and City Staff, will be available for questions. Citizens are urged to attend and learn more about this proposal.


  1. Anne Bretts said:

    Dunbar certainly has a lot of experience, he’s done some nice projects and he’s pretty well known. That’s a good start. It will be interesting to see what the costs and target markets will be.

    August 20, 2008
  2. Anne Bretts said:

    Wait a minute. I got to thinking and something wasn’t right. Sure enough, I checked out the firm’s website and he’s done almost all mixed use and multi-family housing, with just a tiny smattering of industrial buildings a few years ago. He’s got a good reputation and lots of experience, but not in industrial.
    Did the focus of the project change? Were there no industrial developers bidding (a very bad sign)? Can someone explain?

    August 20, 2008
  3. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Good you checked this out, Anne. The last thing we want is more housing out there. Are you going tomorrow? Maybe some mayor candidates will attend. This is very short notice, though. I wonder if Greenvale township residents though.

    August 20, 2008
  4. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Typo above ( I wonder if Greenvale residents “know.”) Here’s the Dunbar website


    August 20, 2008
  5. Jane McWilliams said:

    Any guesses as to why the meeting is on private property?

    August 20, 2008
  6. Anne Bretts said:

    Jane, I think maybe St. Olaf officials were being gracious partners in this project.
    I also think the location of the meeting certainly would make it easier to visualize the site, get some perspective on it and even tour it.
    I can’t imagine why it would be a problem. The meeting is open to the public and there was ample notice. It’s not a formal meeting but an information session.

    August 20, 2008
  7. victor summa said:

    Hey boys … holster yur guns, they’re not robbing the bank, they’re just buying jaw breakers at th’ candy store!

    Them’s water pistols they’re a sportin’! (phew)

    I’m not the EDA member to speak with great authority or understanding about Dunbar and its relationship with the 530 acre annexation Greenvale Township project .. or its development … but Ms Bretts, # 2, me thinks you’re leading your readers down the wrong conclusion path again. Your information may be accurate as to the notches on Dunbar’s gun belt … but in this little project, Frank et al are wearing white hats.

    The contract the EDA has with Dunbar (speaking here from memory) is for advisory services to the EDA in its discussion with the property owners and Land Vista, the property owners professional development representatives, in negotiating an understanding with the property owners as to how the development will be structured to meet the city’s goals … and satisfy the property owner’s long term goals to realize development, hence a sale … all as might be facilitated by the EDA.

    It is important to understand, this aspect of the project is separate from the Annexation Agreement.

    City staff is in ongoing discussions with the Greenvale Township supervisors on that facet.

    Moreover, the Dunbar contract for services with the EDA (again as I recall) includes a specific tenet that precludes Dunbar from any involvement as a developer on these properties.

    Suffice to say, for this project, Dunbar’s expertise is in negotiations with property owners in arriving at a satisfactory development plan that meets the EDA’s goals for the city.

    There. Did I say Dunbar by contract with the EDA has waived any possible development rights to any of the 530 acres of land, commonly known as the Greenvale Annexation?

    I believe this to be an accurate fact.

    Further, on behalf of the EDA, Dunbar has also had similar conversations with other property owners outside the city limits, but contiguous to Northfield. The purpose of these discussions is all part of the EDA’s investigation of the city’s development potential.

    August 21, 2008
  8. Rick Estenson said:

    Victor is correct on his point that Frank Dunbar has signed up with us only for advice and counsel on how to move the project forward. He will not be involved in any eventual development — and there is no change of heart or opinion on housing from what we have all heard and seen in Northfield. We are about bringing business and jobs to Northfield.
    I heard that some were confused about this meeting tonight and thought it was a work session not open to the public….wrong. this is very open and encouraged so we can all hear the same information together at this stage and learn what it will take to actually start marketing a project to Developers and End Users.
    Finally, our new EDA Director, Jody Gunderson, will be in attendance tonight and you will have an opportunity to meet him but please don’t expect him to have studied this issue or enough about Northfield to guide us anywhere at this time. He has only been in the saddle for about 72 hours. Brian O’Connell and Joel Walinski will be there to try to answer questions on hehalf of the City.

    August 21, 2008
  9. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, guys, for the information. Wasn’t leading anyone down a wrong path, just asking questions in the fine tradition of our usual watchdogs.
    So how was Dunbar chosen and who were the other bidders? What’s the fee for this advice? And why would you hire a housing specialist to advise you on an industrial plan?
    And what the heck is ‘negotiating an understanding with the property owners as to how the development will be structured to meet the city’s goals?”
    If you have a comprehensive plan and zoning laws, isn’t it up to the developers to bring a plan that meets your goals? Why would you have to negotiate them?
    This is the darndest thing I’ve seen in these parts.

    August 21, 2008
  10. Bill Ostrem said:

    I won’t be able to attend the meeting tonight but wanted to put in my two cents’ worth in the hopes that EDA members such as Rick Estenson and Victor Summa will hear:

    I’d like to suggest that in addition to industrial businesses, that the EDA consider locating some retail services in the business park that will serve employees there. This might include one or more restaurants.

    To give you an illustration, when I worked in an office complex in Sacramento, downstairs there was a small restaurant that provided breakfast, coffee, snacks, and lunch. They were also able to cater meals.

    Another services might be a dry cleaners. If the NW Corridor realignment of Hwy 23 occurs, then there will be lots of traffic along this corridor and retail businesses would benefit.

    It’s important that these type of services be provided to prevent unecessary trips on our roads — reducing wear and tear on the roads and reducing congestion — and giving employees a quicker way to get what they need during their day.

    I’d also like the EDA to make sure that the plans fit in with the city’s transportation plans, including the trail plans. It would be great if employees had paths to stretch their legs on when taking a break, perhaps even occasionally having a “walking meeting” with a colleague, as I’ve done on more than one occasion.

    August 21, 2008
  11. Rick Estenson said:

    Transportation will certainly play a big role in how this area is developed and i was on the Greenway Corridor group that met several times to emphasize good connectedness as these types of projects come along. So i would expect there to be consideration of these concerns at the right time also.

    As for Anne Bretts question of selecting Frank Dunbar & Associates and her confusion on the what “negotiating an understanding with property owners” is referring to, we did not know of a large number of qualified, experienced parties interested in advising us as an EDA as we approached this stage. We had been in discussions with other “Developers” such as McGough and Welsh but both parties chose to not get involved with us at this point partly because they did not want to eliminate themselves from being able to act as eventual developers at the right time and fearing there might be the perception they had “greased their own wheels” if they started down this role with us. We viewed that as a good sign that they felt it was real enough eventual projects for them to feel that way. Meanwhile, we needed some experienced advice and City staff learned of Frank Dunbar through Ehlers and Associates, our financial consultant firm (I believe). Frank Dunbar and his son, Steve Dunbar have told us and written with us that they will not play that eventual developer role so thay they can remain very objective as they have with other EDA’s in the state on other projects.

    I believe it is true that Dunbar & Associates have focused much of their work on the housing sector but come tonight and listen to what they have to say and we can all evaluate the applicabililty together. Dunbar is the one that connected us to the architectural firm that you will hear tonight (Louck’s) and while a few of us have met them briefly as we prepared for tonight, they are doing this presentation as a one time deal with Frank for us to all gain some insight into what lies ahead and will not be here to try to sell us their services either. While we thought that we would at first hire Dunbar & associates to help us gain better control of land as a city (such as an option to purchase) to be able to then get it in the hands of developers, we have found (as you will hear tonight) that there are several steps on that journey and negotiating an understanding with the landowners is the best way we have to say we don’t know how to value the land at this point and neither do they (really) so getting us all on the same page of the process needed to create an industrial park seems like a next best step. While this also seems quite focused on this land that we are negotiating with Greenvale Township to annex, i would also remind everyone that there are other parcels and landowners who are also at least considering longterm use of their land after applying for annexation that may benefit greatly from hearing what it takes.
    Enough for now,
    i hope to see you tonight.

    August 21, 2008
  12. David Ludescher said:

    Rick: Do you have an agenda? Isn’t this just an informational meeting?

    August 21, 2008
  13. Ross Currier said:

    David L. –

    We are hosting a family gathering at our home tonight that includes three of the children of the Marjorie Cox Clan. You can understand the significance of this event. I had assumed the schedule would allow me to arrive at St. Olaf by 7 pm tonight. My wife recently clarified that this was an unrealistic expectation.

    I am concerned that I might miss some critical, in my mind, pieces of the discussion. As a fellow fiscal conservative, I ask you, if the opportunity presents itself before I am able to arrive, to pursue a line of questioning regarding the infrastructure costs.

    If our goal is to create “shovel ready” conditions on this land, I would think that not only would the water and sewer cost cover bringing this element of the infrastructure from the existing system to the site but also at least a stubbing-in of some connections on the site. I also think that any related and necessary elements, such as a lift station to make this infrastructure effectively work up that big hill, would be included.

    Again, if I’m envisioning “shovel ready”, I’m thinking that there are some transportation related costs, such as roads, curbs and gutters (or alternative storm-water management systems) that must be in place. I understand that there are some significant transportation challenges in that area that would be important to address if we wanted a business park that would be attractive to businesses. I would suggest that these costs also be laid on the table for the purposes of discussing the project.

    When this proposed project was presented to the Planning Commission at least a year ago and a few of the commissioners expressed concerns about the potential costs, several of our leaders assured us that the business park users would pay for the costs of the infrastructure. Two months later, the decision now seems to be between raising property taxes or increasing water and sewer rates.

    When the City Hall project was proposed in January, the cost was $342,000. Now the costs are at $1.2 million. I think you can see where I’m going with this analysis and my concern.

    We all recognize the importance of creating jobs here in Northfield. We all support strengthening our local economy. We all hope that the benefits will outweigh the costs and that the new business park will contribute to Northfield’s tax base.

    David L., I’m sure you’ll agree, Northfield citizens need to know the truth, and the whole truth, about the potential infrastructure costs if they are going to be asked to pay for this project. Thanks for working with me on this important matter.

    – Ross

    August 21, 2008
  14. Rick Estenson said:

    This is an informational session
    the agenda would look something like this:

    7:00 Welcome & Purpose of meeting by Rick Estenson
    7:03 Introduction of Dunbar & Associates by Brian O’Connell
    7:07 Presentation by Dunbar & Associates and Loucks Associates
    7:37 Questions & Comments from audience
    ? they kick us out by 9 but should be done well before then (i would expect)

    beverages and cookies will be provided (at least to those that come early)

    August 21, 2008
  15. David Ludescher said:

    Ross: I have confidence in Rick and the EDA. If they want my opinion, I’m sure they will ask.

    August 21, 2008
  16. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks for the info. I guess it makes more sense now.
    Believe me, I’m not knocking Frank Dunbar. He has done some spectacular projects and has huge experience in development in many communities. And it is a good sign that the other developers didn’t want to be counted out.
    Good luck. Should be an interesting meeting.

    August 21, 2008
  17. Anne Bretts said:

    Great points, Bill. There are lots of residents in the area, so a retail component would make sense. I doubt the park itself would support retail, but the surrounding area, including the hospital, would. Of course, retail would include some kind of gas station/convenience store. Goodness, that could become quite a hub.

    August 21, 2008
  18. victor summa said:

    Once again, Ms. Bretts, I’m not the EDA member with the closest relationship to the Greenvale project. I’m Infill … public relations, transportation, micro grant …

    We’re personnel “thin”. You should apply for the EDA or the Plan Commission, vetting your voice in a more official venue, face to face.

    The annexation rigor is, New land-mass use committee principle concern.

    I do sit in the Public meetings, where these issues and questions are discussed and decided.

    You might check the minutes or re-read any Northfield News coverage of the Greenvale affair as it has unfolded (LG is/was also welcome as are you to these meetings) Another excellent source for background is Ross Currier under one of his many hats … LG, NDDC, or as a former Plan Commissioner. He’s rather well informed.

    The nuance of the Dunbar background, which missed all these vetting possibilities and has almost caught the usual LG “wild-fire” characteristic as much of the comment here does, begs the question, is LG a site for rumor, innuendo, accusatory rhetoric, or for the uninformed by-stander to sit on the rock blocking the entrance to the cave?

    Anne, are you fanning the flames?

    You wrote (asked?)

    How was Dunbar chosen?

    Who were the other bidders?

    What’s the fee for this advice?

    Why would you hire a housing specialist to advise you on an industrial plan?

    And what the heck is ‘negotiating an understanding with the property owners as to how the development will be structured to meet the city’s goals?”

    You may not like them, but there are reasonable answers to all your questions.

    By posing the ” who what where how” etc questions, it seems you’re suggesting wrong doing, and I’m not going to waste time here answering those other than to say, by majority vote!

    But, the “why” is worthy of a short reply.

    Why Dunbar was hired, is … The EDA felt it was prudent to have a third party ( a neutral, but professional representative) acting as a “go-between” caring ideas back and fourth. Dunbar’s strong background in dealing with property owners for ANY development … not necessarily limited by the goals of Northfield’s caring citizenry, as is the case in this scenario sealed the deal.

    Why this need?

    As the City council had previously given the “green-light” to the transaction to move forward without a Concept Plan, (the usual assurance mechanism) specifying the development outcomes acceptable to the Plan Commission and the City … the EDA, working with the hand it was dealt, is seeking a controlling Option Agreement on the property which includes Northfield’s preferred parameters of sale, hence development. Dunbar’s work will be to specify those needs in that option agreement and, assure the property owners the agreement is mutually acceptable.

    In short, the EDA is seeking an agreement with the property owners that will control the ultimate sale so that the concerns of the Comp Plan and the community are a part of the circumstances (a contingency) of the sale and eventual development.

    Therefore, it could be argued as good stewards of the community, The EDA is acting as does the Plan commission in preparing this project to go to the City Council in a form that is workable and acceptable to the needs and the aesthetics of the community.

    Dunbar was highly recommended … their place in the industry evaluated and they’ve been on the job. We’ll see some of the suggested process tonight (Aug 21 ) at the EDA public informational meeting at St. Olaf’s Viking Theater, 7PM.

    So in answer to: what the heck is ‘negotiating an understanding … to meet the city’s goals?

    ANSWER: In light of the uniqueness of this particular annexation, to facilitate the eventual transaction without the conventional developer’s request (Concept Plan) and at this time no specific sale pending, The EDA is working to provide the needed controls to insure the community’s desired outcome.

    August 21, 2008
  19. victor summa said:

    Well, crow! Or, eat crow. Suffice to say, this EDA member feels like the wool was pulled over his eyes. While what I wrote in explanation of the Dunbar crisis in #18 was accurate as I saw it from my seat on the EDA … tonight’s annexation story unfolded a bit differently. I haven’t the energy to expound more here tonight … Bonnie Obremiski, Kiffi, and Bruce Anderson were all there … as were others and I assume they’ll all write it as they heard it … and far better than I.

    August 21, 2008
  20. Anne Bretts said:


    In my professional capacity, I have written about Mr. Dunbar many times over many years and have nothing but the utmost respect for him and have said so. He is an expert in land acquisition.
    There are many legitimate benefits and many legitimate questions about this project. I don’t care one bit about the outcome of the project. I’m just someone who follows and writes about commercial real estate and I’m fascinated by the details of deals.

    August 22, 2008
  21. Martha Cashman said:


    Where is your moderation of Victor’s comments regarding Anne’s comments? They seem mean spirited and sarcastic towards Anne.

    August 22, 2008
  22. Griff Wigley said:


    I’ve been a bit lax on my moderating duties at times over the past week or so… here and elsewhere.

    I really want your input on this issue but I don’t have time right now to devote to trying to keep things civil between you.

    Please go waaaay overboard to make sure your comments are completely within our guidelines.

    August 22, 2008
  23. Martha Cashman said:


    Thank you. You may have noticed that I have not been commenting as often as in the past. I am not trying to pick a fight with anyone. It is my desire to see subjects discussed with civility and respect; facts and truthfulness— absent personal agendas, sarcasm, rumors, gossip, etc.

    August 22, 2008
  24. victor summa said:

    Ms. Cashman RE: your comment #21

    where’s moderation of Victor’s comments regarding Anne’s comments? They seem mean spirited and sarcastic towards Anne.

    Could you be specific as what was sarcastic… mean spirited… in my mere informed reply to Anne’s concerns as she expressed them?


    August 22, 2008
  25. Anne Bretts said:

    Martha, thanks so much for your concern, but please let this go. We need to focus on the issues and the discussion. People can see the comments for what they are.

    August 22, 2008
  26. Martha Cashman said:


    Will do! I agree about staying focused on the issues and the discussion — with civility, respect and based on facts.

    August 22, 2008
  27. Griff Wigley said:

    We have two active discussion threads on the Annexation/Biz Park issue triggered by this week’s developer meeting: This one and Bonnie Obremski’s “status update” on the RepJ story she’s working on:

    I think it’s best to focus the discussion in one place for now, so I’m closing comments here. See you over there!

    August 23, 2008

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