Business park proposal breeds uncertainty, officials attempt to clarify

Photo: Bonnie Obremski/RepJ Caption: View of the Sorem family farm off Garrett Road and, on the horizon, the Saint Olaf College wind turbine. Some of the land might one day support a Northfield industrial park.

Note to readers: Please keep these questions in mind when reading the feature below and respond, if you would like, to help me move forward with coverage:

What are more benefits and shortcomings of a plan that would ask Northfield residents to pay for water and sewer lines to extend to newly annexed properties along the city’s northwest border?

Who can give current estimates of the cost of the proposed project to lay that infrastructure?

What do residents envision as the best use of the undeveloped farmland?

Are there questions surrounding the annexation proposal I have not yet attempted to answer?

Northfield is negotiating a deal with the adjacent Greenvale Township to annex 530 acres of farmland for industrial use but Northfielders and even some Greenvale residents are uncertain about the benefits of the transaction, which is now more than two years in the making.

City officials and engineers will attempt to inform the public about the annexation during a meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m.. A PowerPoint presentation and discussion will take place in Saint Olaf’s Buntrock Commons Viking Theater on 1520 St. Olaf Ave in anticipation of a crowd of perhaps 50 or more, Brian O’Connell, Northfield Community Development Director, said in his city hall office on Wednesday morning.

The most recent meeting regarding the annexation proposal, which drew some disgruntled township residents, happened on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Greenvale Town Hall off Route 23. During the meeting, O’Connell and Joel Walinski, interim Northfield City Administrator, presented a draft of an annexation agreement to township supervisors Richard Moore and Bernard Budin. Greenvale’s third supervisor Robert Winter was absent. About a dozen Greenvale residents sat in the audience.

One of the audience members, Wayne Peterson, said he did not know if Greenvale would benefit enough from giving up its land. In reply, O’Connell referenced the part of the draft agreement that indicates Greenvale will still receive its property taxes from the land for two years after the proposed annexation. He added that Northfield will also assume responsibility for paying to maintain the roads and other infrastructure on the property.

Two other township residents asked questions about the proposal including Gregory Langer and David Lorence. In addition to his questions, Langer told Moore he wished someone had advertised the meeting more widely because he understood many more people in the community would have attended had they known what was on the agenda.

After the meeting, Langer added he was concerned about the repeated absence of Supervisor Winter, since Winter is one of just three men who will make the ultimate decision about whether to approve an annexation agreement.

For Northfielders, one of the primary unknowns about the annexation agreement is what city residents might pay to extend infrastructure to the four new, undeveloped parcels of farmland, according to former planning commissioners Betsey Buckheit and Margit Johnson. The women informally discussed the annexation at the James Gang Hideaway café on Tuesday. Buckheit is a candidate for the 2nd Ward seat on City Council, a member of the Charter Commission and served as a planning commissioner from 2001 to 2005. Johnson is chairman of the Library Board and served as a commissioner from 1996 to 2000.

The farmland to be annexed is owned by John Fink of 320th Street West, Donald Lysne of 330th Street West, David Sorem of 32840 Garrett Avenue and Saint Olaf College. According to O’Connell, a report engineers completed in 2005 indicates the cost to lay water and sewer lines to that land would reach about $2.6 million. WSB & Associates Inc. of Minneapolis wrote the report. Additional construction costs could push the project’s price tag to about $4 million, O’Connell said.

Despite the report, O’Connell, Buckheit and Johnson confirmed there has been confusion among the community since 2005 about that dollar figure. Johnson said she once heard of a $15 million estimate. O’Connell said he believed the alleged higher estimates are unfounded.

Brett Weiss, president of the WSB firm, said on Wednesday it would be difficult to determine if the project’s cost estimates could be far outdated unless the firm took another hard look at the project.

Whatever the final cost, the city still has to reach an agreement about how to foot the bill, according to O’Connell. He said he would prefer adjusting the water and sewer rates to raise funds, instead of raising tax rates.

Most people seem to agree another major uncertainty exists in what companies might be interested in developing pieces of the properties, which together equal the area of about 402 football fields.

Kevin Green and Larry Larson of Land Vista LLC in Hastings are representing farmers Fink, Lysne and Sorem. Green said on Tuesday he has spoken with perhaps two interested developers and O’Connell confirmed he has seen a similar amount of interest.

However, the men each said those potential developers are far from making a commitment. As for what the landowners are seeking, Fink declined to comment on the proposed annexation, Sorem was out of town and Lysne did not return messages, Larson said on Monday.

During Tuesday night’s Greenvale meeting, Langer asked if some of Northfield’s city officials might be rushing the annexation proposal to reach an agreement before the Northfield sees the anticipated large turnover on City Council. O’Connell disagreed officials are rushing the agreement.

On Wednesday, O’Connell elaborated on that response saying officials have been working on the proposal in earnest for more than six months. Furthermore, he said annexing the land in question has been a development goal for decades, according to the city’s past comprehensive plans.

Some Northfielders have criticized an industrial development on the city’s outskirts will only detract from the viability of downtown commerce. O’Connell said he believed a city should have a range of developable property available to businesses that want to invest in Northfield.

Greenvale resident Lorence asked O’Connell and Walinski what would happen if Northfield citizens annex the farmland, build infrastructure and cannot attract desired industry. Walinski replied that Northfielders would recognize the process as a long-term investment.

Some annexation critics believe the city might grow desperate for a return on that potential investment sooner rather than later, however, and might opt to allow controversial businesses such as Wal-Mart to move in. O’Connell said business representatives approached city officials with an unspecified “big box” store proposal about a two years ago but, officials told those representatives there was not space for such a business in the city.

A Wal-Mart headquarters public relations representative agreed to search for a Northfield business proposal document last week, should such a document exist. That representative had not sent any information as of Wednesday. According to information on, which is a campaign of the Center for Community and Corporate Ethics based in Washington, D.C., Wal-Mart has constructed stores even in communities with bylaws restricting big-box stores.

Johnson said the proposed annexation could lead to positive things in Northfield. She and Buckheit agreed with the widely held belief that the city should explore methods of boosting its industry because residential growth is out-pacing industrial growth. The right industrial development of that farmland could broaden the city’s tax base without causing too many negative repercussions, which could possibly include, they said, diminishment of the agricultural landscape or traffic tie-ups.

Northfielders are continuing to debate just what the “right” kind of development could be and they might have the opportunity to discuss the matter further during Thursday night’s meeting. In addition to O’Connell and Walinski, Frank Dunbar of Dunbar Developing Corp. in Long Lake, Jeff Shopek of Loucks and Associates in Osseo and Rick Estenson of the Northfield Economic Development Authority (EDA) will attend the meeting. Estenson works as vice president of business development at the First National Bank of Northfield. He is one of four members of the EDA.

O’Connell and Walinski scheduled another meeting to discuss annexation negotiations in early September.

(Note: In gathering information for this article I also spoke with most of the mayoral candidates, former Planning Commissioner Ronald Griffith, Victor and Kiffi Summa and a number of other city residents in passing. I also attempted to make appointments with representatives from the Malt-O-Meal cereal manufacturing plant and McLane food distributors to ask if those industries might consider expanding their facilities within Northfield. Neither company returned messages.)

Update 8/22: audio added
Question from local farmer Wayne Peterson. One minute.
Response from Northfield Community Development Director Brian O’Connell. One minute.

Update 8/23: Blog post title (previously named ‘Annexation center stage tonight’) has been renamed to ‘Business park proposal breeds uncertainty, officials attempt to clarify’

Update 9/6 David Johnson advises the Greenvale Township supervisors on Thursday in the video below. Also, as a clarification to this story, city administrators agreed that, for Northfield, the term “shovel ready” means to have most of the plans and permits in place to begin digging infrastructure. In that case, city residents might pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach shovel readiness, not millions.

Dean Johnson Consults with Greenvale Township from Bonnie Obremski on Vimeo.

Update 9/10
Brian O’Connell asked me to clarify Dean Johnson’s job title and qualifications on Monday. Johnson responded to my question as follows: “I am a city planner. I spent 14 years in the public sector and have owned the consulting business for the past 18 years. Our clients include cities, townships, counties, regional agencies, and state departments.”

Update 9/19

Finally, I upload the map of the Greenvale land in question.

Update 9/22

A few Greenvale landowners are concerned that Northfield city administrators will walk away from annexation negotiations if township supervisors push too hard for higher compensation for 530 acres of farmland.

City officials hope to develop the acres along the city’s northwestern border into an industrial park.

Joel Walinski, Northfield’s interim city administrator, said on Wednesday he is still interested in negotiating with Greenvale’s three supervisors, but he could hardly see the city council agreeing to compensate the township by much more than the amount required by state law.

“I can guarantee you that is not the figure we will agree to,” Walinski said during a special meeting on Tuesday night, after hearing the supervisors ask for $500 for every acre annexed.

Photo: Bonnie Obremski/RepJ Caption: Joel Walinski, Northfield's interim city administrator faces Richard Moore, Greenvale township's superisor chairman on September 16. Jody Gunderson, representing Northfield's Economic Development Authority, sits beside Walinski. Beside Moore are supervisors Bernard Budin and Robert Winter.
Photo: Bonnie Obremski/RepJ Caption: Joel Walinski, Northfield's interim city administrator faces Richard Moore, Greenvale township's superisor chairman on September 16. Jody Gunderson, representing Northfield's Economic Development Authority, sits beside Walinski. Beside Moore are supervisors Bernard Budin and Robert Winter

According to state law minimum requirements, cities only need compensate townships in an amount equivalent to property taxes on the annexed land across a period of two years. Richard Moore, Greenvale supervisor chariman, estimated the current tax rate at $12.50 per acre.

The city and township administrators did not discuss payment plans.

Perhaps further substantiating the fear of those concerned Greenvale landowners, Walinski added that the city’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) members are making progress with another possible annexation agreement with Bridgewater Township. It is not out of the question, he said, that EDA members could one day see reaching an agreement with Bridgewater as more attractive.

As of Wednesday, however, Richard Estenson, spokesperson for the EDA, said he is interested in pursuing both agreements.

“I can imagine many to suggest that since we have so many [of Greenvale’s] acres out in the northwest that we should not even bother with this [Bridgewater] area,” Estenson said. “But, it will be good to have some choices, and competition in the market can make for better pricing and decisions.”

Still, Bridgewater supervisors could conceivably ask for $500 an acre as compensation just as Greenvale has, according to information Greenvale’s hired consultant has given at meetings.

“I have consistently said the rate has become the ‘current standard,'” Dean Johnson, consultant and city planner, said in an e-mail on Wednesday. “I’m completing an orderly annexation agreement on behalf of the city of Cologne with Benton Township. That city has agreed to [that] base fee.”

Johnson said that other annexation agreement still has “some other unresolved points.” He does not necessarily expect Northfield will agree to the base fee Cologne did.

“I never guaranteed anything,” Johnson said. “That’s what individual negotiating is for. It’s always give and take.”

One of the Greenvale farmers, David Sorem, who has agreed to allow Northfield officials to annex 264 acres of his land spoke vehemently against asking for the so-called standard compensation figure.

“It’s my land, it’s not your land, it’s not these people’s land,” Sorem said, addressing the township supervisors, and an audience of about 20 people. “You’ve been getting taxes from my land forever. Now, if I want to take my land and give my taxes to somebody else, that’s my business.”

Photo:Bonnie Obremski/RepJ  From left: David Sorem, Thomas Sorem, who is David's son and another Greenvale township resident spoke during a meeting on September 16
Photo:Bonnie Obremski/RepJ From left: David Sorem, Thomas Sorem, who is David's son and another Greenvale township resident spoke during a meeting on September 16

In addition to Sorem, two other Greenvale farmers have agreed to go forward with the annexation. They are John Fink, who would see about 136 acres of farmland annexed and Donald Lysne, who would see about 40 annexed. Saint Olaf College would see about 90 acres of taxable farmland annexed. Annexation discussions began nearly two years ago when a realtor representing the Greenvale farmers began speaking with city administrators about the farmers’ interest in seeking annexation.

The next Greenvale township meeting is on Tuesday, October 21 in the new township hall.

David&ThomasSoremGreenvale9/16 from Bonnie Obremski on Vimeo

Update 10/2

I apologize for misspelling Richard Estenson’s name when I first published this post. Updated version here:


  1. Ross Currier said:

    Wow Bonnie, a pretty thorough piece from some who hasn’t been here all that long. In particular, the details from Greenvale Township added something new, at least for me.

    I hope that you’ll be able to talk with Jim Pokorney, Rick Estenson, and David Ludescher soon. Personally, I think they’ve worked long and hard on this New Business Park effort and imagine they’ll have much to say.

    August 21, 2008
  2. This is a very large order, and I cannot answer any one of the questions put forth. However, I seriously question the ability of Northfield to handle any major undertakings when they are still looking for a million dollars that once belonged to taxpayers who trusted the city with their hard earned dollars.

    August 21, 2008
  3. Peter Waskiw said:

    I would have thought that if the EDA (an economic authority) are driving the development of the land for economic reasons, then the first question would be what will be economic costs and benefits to the City of Northfield EXISTING businesses and residents.

    So how about the question: Should an economic impact analysis be completed to determine the economic impacts to EXISTING businesses and residents? If the EDA does not consider economic impacts important (good or bad), I wonder what is really driving the decision?

    Of course, you already touched on the cost and benefit analysis for infrastructure and the question over possible impacts to residents. As a Northfield tax payer, I certainly will not be supporting the idea that I pay higher taxes for water or sewer capacity or roads, so the City can have a real economic tax base and charge me fewer taxes.

    There are costs associated to others not associated with living in Northfield but have jurisdictional responsibility over roadways and other utilities and infrastructure. Perhaps this should also be included in the cost and benefit analysis.

    August 21, 2008
  4. Bruce Morlan said:

    The four major issues I see with the annexation include:

    (1) without the ability to assess “Impact Fees” such a long term plan almost certainly gets primed with taxpayer funding, perhaps through bonds that are paid back as development proceeds. Ask Dundas with their “Bridgewater Heights” development how that is working out for them.

    (2) although extending the sewer represents the big, easy to see cost (I’ve heard $4M recently), other infrastructure is also at risk. Consider how effective a safety center on the east side of the rail lines is in providing protection to such a far off place. Can you say “split safety center?” Can you pay for that out out of new taxes? I think not.

    (3) although industry and businesses pay more than their fair share for infrastructure, (a) this is seldom well advertised, and (b) see (1).

    (4) Finally, the Total Cost of Services analysis and the tax impacts are almost impossible to get good data on because the developers are not well served by the resulting sticker shock. Proponents hedge down, excited city officials extol the 8×11 glossy adverts, staff relies on consultants without doing simple back-of-the-envelope sanity checks and the poor taxpayer foots the bill. Small cities who attempt to grow their way out of difficulties are ignoring the lessons of history. Bad Idea. Pay attention to the mayoral candidates and see who is thinking of these hard unpleasantries. (Disclaimer: I am working on the Eduardo Wolle campaign).

    All of this applies in the booming past. Factor in the paradigm shift we are undergoing as fuel and food become scarce enough that people are dying and killing to get them, and you may want to rethink the whole “if we build it they will come” mentality. These are hard issues, and they come with unpleasant questions and uncomfortable answers. The landowners and speculators are, by definition, not in things for the long term, and they are not going to easily give you the information necessary for sound decision making. Let’s be careful out there.

    August 21, 2008
  5. Ray Cox said:

    Bruce makes some excellent points about this annexation and Bonnie has a bucket full of things to think about. I really appreciate that people are talking and thinking about something like this. Northfield needs good discussion about a significant project like this.

    I am not sure I’m following the development cost issue. It was my understanding that people that develop land pay for the cost of the development infrastructure. I realize that many folks are concerned about the ‘hidden’ costs of development, such as increases in road repairs, more kids in school requiring new buildings, more police, etc. But the basic cost—land, engineering, roads, pipes, etc.—-I assume would be borne by the developers of the land.

    I do believe that Northfield needs additional commerical/industrial land to be made available for businesses. We need it to service our own expanding businesses as well as attract new businesses. My construction company sits on 5.2 acres of land I purchased in 1993. If I needed to build today and wanted 5-8 acres where would I go? We ran into the issue about College City Beverage leaving town due to land issues. We should be able to serve the needs of the businesses we have grown, and fit a few more new ones in from time to time.

    August 21, 2008
  6. Anne Bretts said:

    Come on, people, don’t you Google? There’s no way in hell Wal-Mart will be coming to that site. It builds along major traffic routes in high volume, high density retail sites, not the corner of an industrial park on a practically invisible traffic corridor.
    And because I don’t expect you to believe me, I can point to the fact that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., announced in April and the Business Journal reported:

    “Walmart has killed plans for three proposed stores in Minnesota and delayed some projects as part of a companywide effort to slow its growth.

    The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant plans to open just two stores each in 2008 and 2009 in Minnesota after opening 12 new, expanded or relocated stores here in 2007.

    Wal-Mart was forced to re-evaluate its plans in Minnesota after CEO Lee Scott announced last fall that the company would open just 170 stores nationwide this year and 140 next year, down from 281 in 2007.

    “We recently abandoned efforts for stores in Carver, East Bethel and St. Cloud that we had been working on,” said Lisa Nelson, Wal-Mart’s senior manager of public affairs and government relations for this region. “We would still like to relocate in St. Cloud, but the site we were working on became cost-prohibitive due to required offsite improvements.”

    A proposed store in Cottage Grove also is postponed, putting an entire 700,000-square-foot retail development on hold.

    A relocated Wal-Mart Supercenter in Grand Rapids, Minn., will open in May, and a new Supercenter will open in Austin, Minn., in July. Plans for a relocated store in Vadnais Heights and an expanded location in Apple Valley are still on for 2009.”

    Here’s the link:

    As for costs for utilities, most developers pay to extend utilities…if the city is being asked to pay, it’s because the site probably isn’t competitive enough to make it worthwhile, and taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing development.
    United Properties and Ryan Companies are the largest developers of this kind and have tons of projects that can be studied online. The most recent city project is tiny Columbus, just north of the I-35 split near Forest Lake. There are tons of stories about the cost of extending utilities to an area along I-35 for business development.
    You can contact Lakeville about the costs and process of developing its successful airport industrial area, just a bit north on Cedar.
    In fact, there are some pretty standard cost estimates for this kind of thing, so if you talk to the big guys (who also do small projects and work in small markets), they can tell you the whole process. Just know that even the guys with really deep pockets aren’t doing more than getting paperwork in order for new projects right now. There are no spec buildings happening and even clients who want to grow or relocate are too nervous to do much more than hope and pray. The downturn is expected to last at least another year.

    August 21, 2008
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    Ack, sorry… audio didn’t work. Will try again in the morn!

    August 21, 2008
  8. Bruce Morlan said:

    Anne, I agree with you, indeed, there are many reasons I am concerned about the prospect of the city entertaining thoughts about developing its way out of a cash crunch.

    First, if Northfield overcommits the existing sewer plant, Dundas (where I sit on the planning commission) will find itself tied by a long sewer pipe to an expensive upgrade to that shared facility. Dundas is having enough fun digging its own holes without having its northern partner add to the fun.

    Second, I have already heard people using the phrase “shovel-ready to describe their plans for the site. That means the services are put in place (paid for by ?) and a developer only needs to file for permits and they can hold that photo-op with the gold shovels, the champagne and the press. Bonding to cover the costs just means that the city is in a desperate race to see whether the bond payments outrun the income from the building permits and connection fees. I’d rather go to one of the casinos in today’s market, myself.

    As for the downturn lasting another year, a very interesting recent story about an professor now known as “Dr Doom” suggests this downturn will be the worst since the Big Depression.

    On Sept. 7, 2006, Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, stood before an audience of economists at the International Monetary Fund and announced that a crisis was brewing. In the coming months and years, he warned, the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession. He laid out a bleak sequence of events: homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt. These developments, he went on, could cripple or destroy hedge funds, investment banks and other major financial institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

    NYTimes, free registration/login required.)

    They chuckled in 2006, but now he looks like a prescient genius.

    The press is even starting to pry the lid off the unemployment figures because the low numbers we hear do not account for some major issues (like the number of people who work part time but not by choice).

    The bottom line? The city needs to be more like your “guys with really deep pockets” who are afraid of this economy and less like a sailor on shore leave with a freshly cashed paycheck. If the big guys are battening down the hatches, who are we to be going on deck in flip-flops and sunglasses?

    August 21, 2008
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Okay, one more time! Bonnie captured some audio from Tuesday’s meeting at Greenvale Town Hall. I’ve now added it above to the blog post. Local farmer Wayne Peterson asks a question and it’s answered by Community Development Director Brian O’Connell… 1 minute each.

    August 22, 2008
  10. Anne Bretts said:

    Bruce, good points about the economy. The guys I interview say another year, but most concede that’s a prayer and not a prediction. The growth will come in sites closer to the cities and hugging key corridors, from I-35 to I-94 and 169. With gas prices high and all the empty houses in the Twin Cities, Northfield will be able to avoid growth and keep things just as they are for a very long time.
    The U.S. is on its way to being the next England, a cute tourist attraction and a former world leader. There was a great show on ABC a couple of weeks ago about the growth of China. The telling comment was that if China’s population used resources at the rate Americans do, we would need an entire new planet to support the demand. Now add in India, Pakistan and the Middle East and you’re talking sucking the planet dry in a few years.
    Americans, I fear, are in the position of men’s teams when Title IX required parity with women’s sports. The men saw themselves as being penalized, unable to see that they had used twice their share of money for years. Americans just don’t see how out of whack we are with the rest of the world. The point is that you’re right in thinking running utilities to this new industrial site makes less sense than a trip to the casino.
    I say let’s test your theory…slots or poker?

    August 22, 2008
  11. Bill Ostrem said:

    I appreciate the quality of reporting and discussion here. The key question seems to be whether the developers pay for the infrastructure.

    Keep in mind also that the proposed realignment of Highway 23/43 (Dakota and Rice highways) means it would go through the business park and connect with Highway 19. This would then became a major route that people will use to enter the city from the north, displacing traffic from Eveleth and Cedar Avenues, which will become local roads. Or so I gathered from Wed. night’s transportation plan presentation by Dakota County; this is their preferred route.

    August 22, 2008
  12. Peter Waskiw said:

    We regards to my comments on post #3, I believe the arguments so far for the annexation are very subjective. As an earlier post discussion time back tried to bring the subjective vs objective nature of City decisions to the forefront without much success. So far all I am hearing is that we need more commercial and industrial land without proof that my taxes will not go up or that there is no net benefit.

    I believe the discussion is far to emotional and subjective. There is very little data to show the need for annexation the land. Let me also be clear, I am not against the annexation in itself, but how the decision is being presented and made to the community. For example, I hear arguments that we need more tax base, well OK. How will this benefit the community, where will the “extra” taxes be spent and over what time frames? What will be the cost of “shovel ready” infrastructure as compared to building more important infrastructure that is required NOW? So…what are the assumptions about the annexation and the benefits to Northfield? What is the taxable yield over time? The NET infrastructure costs to the City residents NOT paid by the developer? This includes all the city staff and consultant time on dealing with the process? This is not rocket science stuff.

    Ray – With all due respect, I disagree that ‘hidden’ costs of development are borne by the developers of the land. Look at the existing situation, how much staff time has been spent on this already, what about the annexation agreement cost, who will provide the extensions for W/S.

    If the intent is to service the growth of EXISTING business that need to compete in a growing market, be it expanding square footage for efficiency, or reducing transportation cost etc than having land ready is important. But if local tax dollars are being used to subsidize these “efficiencies” then the market has already failed. It is one thing to have developable land ready for subdivision or plats, but quite anther to have land “shovel ready”.

    Perhaps, the City decision makers should approach the issue using a sustainable development approach rather than pin the tail on the donkey approach. Sustainable development includes a real fiscal assessment of the NET benefits. Rather than an analysis that just says, “we need more land and square feet for commercial and industrial land use to increase the tax”.

    For those are not familiar, here is a web link explaining the type of analysis:

    Griff – Do we have a link to the feasibility study for the land proposed in the annexation?

    August 22, 2008
  13. Anne (and Bruce M.):
    I agree with you that “The point is that you’re right in thinking running utilities to this new industrial site makes less sense than a trip to the casino” at this point in history.

    Well, Frank Dunbar made it abundantly clear at last night’s presentation that WITHOUT having the site “shovel-ready,” Northfield can FORGET about having any developer and end-user coming to the site. He reiterated this point several times, in fact. Who would do this, according to Mr. Dunbar? The City (i.e. Northfield taxpayers) and the landowners (I don’t think so…).

    Add the fact that Bill O alludes to, that having the site “shovel-ready” includes having a redesigned Cedar Ave. (Co. Rd 23/42) running where the gravel Garrett Ave currently runs, and you can see that there is a helluva lot of infrastructure needed before these Fields of Dreams can be turned into Northfield’s property tax/jobs salvation. The Dakota County rep at Wednesday night’s transportation plan meeting in the Council chambers said explicitly that any redesign of Cedar Ave would be development-driven. If this is the case, it would then have to be City of Northfield-driven (and presumably primarily paid for)…

    The plot thickens.

    August 22, 2008
  14. This sort of “If you don’t build it we won’t come” is precisely the reason people don’t trust developers. A city that cannot or will not do the “total cost of services” analyses ends up buying the glitter without asking the “who’s picking up the check”. The last thing the city needs out of the upcoming election is a rah-rah city council that is afraid to ask the hard questions. When I was a wet behind the ears member of the Dundas planning commission and I asked questions like this I was told “we cannot risk torpedoing the development by trying to make the developer pay for infrastructure” (specifically the dangerous outlet from Bridgewater Heights onto CSAH 1). Later, when I pushed harder I was told that Minnesota does not allow cities to impose “impact fees” to cover extraordinary costs. So, since we were not told this in advance of the approval point, we had made our decision with incomplete information.

    In my opinion, the citizens of Northfield should be given a clear picture of their options, including projections of tax rates under the options being considered.

    For example, consider the sewer plant. I bet many of them would much rather see a predictable bump in taxes to pay for needed repairs rather than betting that new development will pick up the tab for an expansion that they basically don’t want anyway. If they wanted to live with Burnsville or Apple Valley congestion, they’d move there and enjoy those large city amenities. Give them a choice, rather than giving the choice to the developers, and the people may surprise you.

    Of course, the people who want the new region to grow will promise the voters that this gold mine of I-35 development will pay for itself and let us lower tax rates for the homeowners. Remember the last time you heard that? Seen any significant lowering of tax rates?

    August 23, 2008
  15. Griff Wigley said:

    In today’s Nfld News: Developers speak about new business park.

    A projected timeline for a 200-acre business park proposed by Loucks engineer Jeff Shopek looks like this:

    • Phase I — three to 12 months ($120,000 to $150,000), initial zoning

    • Phase II — 12 to 24 months ($350,000 to $400,000) soil borings, wetland delineation, environmental review, initial design, state approvals

    • Phase III — 12 to ? months ($2 to $2.5 million) developer involvement; streets, sewer and water lines laid

    August 23, 2008
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    Peter, no, I don’t “have a link to the feasibility study for the land proposed in the annexation.”

    But maybe someone else does?

    August 23, 2008
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve closed comments on the other blog post about the annexation/biz park meeting this week in favor of focusing all discussion on the issue here for now.

    August 23, 2008
  18. Thank you so much to everyone who commented on this story. I felt tingles of excitement every time someone posted something about the article (this blogging thing still holds quite a bit of novelty for me). I look forward to the community’s response propelling me forward with this story and others.

    That said: Ross — I have yet to speak with Jim Pokorney and David Ludescher. I spoke briefly with Rick Estenson following Thursday’s meeting to introduce myself. Estenson and Victor Summa had what appeared to be a heated discussion regarding the presentation. Mr. Summa seemed to suspect Estenson had not been as open and honest about information in the presentation as he could have been during past Economic Development Authority meetings. Estenson replied that he disagreed.

    Mr. Waskiw — I believe city residents should demand a transparent and thorough a financial analysis of this proposed project as soon as possible. I was surprised why audience members did not ask more questions about the numbers on Thursday at the Viking Theater. On another note, I was also a bit surprised Thursday’s audience was not larger than it was, considering the crowds regular City Council meetings usually draw. Although, maybe those City Council audiences just seem large because of all the Key kids that show.

    Bruce Morlan — Frank Dunbar said he believed times of economic downturn can be the best times to invest in a project such as the proposed business park. He said developing in boom times usually results in more long-term problems. His argument seemed convincing in general, but is it the right strategy specifically for Northfield at this particular time? That would be another question to try and find answers to.

    Mr. Cox — As I’m sure you already heard, Mr. Dunbar’s presentation seemed to fit into the “If we build it, they will come,” philosophy. Mr. Dunbar and Mr. Shopek showed the audience several other somewhat similar projects they have worked on in the past. Some people in the audience seemed convinced such a development could work as well in Northfield as it has in other communities, but other people seemed to show more skepticism. Mr. Dunbar admitted there are always uncertainties in any investment such as the one the city is considering, and that some projects are bound to be more successful than others.

    Ms. Bretts — I’m glad you gave us the Wal-Mart information. As soon as I posted my article, I felt a little guilty for not being as fair as I could have in reporting the possibility of Wal-Mart taking a spot in the proposed park. I brought it up in the article since it seemed to be a lurking suspicion in the minds of several people I spoke to. Although, sometimes when people said “Wal-Mart” they were just using it as one example of a business they would not want to see in the park. Perhaps Wal-Mart wouldn’t want it, but what about other companies that might inspire nearly equal controversy among Northfielders? Perhaps city residents would do well to be extremely specific in re-zoning the agricultural land when it comes time for that. But then, people would have to agree on exactly what they want.

    As for what you said about paying for utilities, I had a similar thought at the presentation. In other words, if Mr. Dunbar is saying no business owner in his or her right might would invest in that land without more infrastructure etc., then why should Northfield citizens? I suppose the answer lies in deciding upon the right balance between meeting a company half-way to encourage industrial growth, and conserving dollars. Thanks for the Lakeville tip, I’ll look into it.

    Mr. Ostrem and Mr. Anderson — I’d like to know more about the transportation matters. Who is the best person to talk to about those? Maybe I just had better make it to those meetings.

    Griff — I saw that Phase outline you posted but in the actual PowerPoint presentation they, in fact, used more than one consecutive question mark in the areas they did not have figures. I didn’t know if each question mark was a place holder for a zero, or just indicated the level of uncertainty the engineer felt. Or maybe whoever typed the info into the computer is too used to trying to convey human emotion through electronic communication. Your thoughts??!!!

    August 26, 2008
  19. For one thing, Curt, I don’t have the impression that Northfield colleges could turn around on a dime and have a program prepared to prepare workers for the jobs available like South Central College in Farbo seems to have.
    Also, Farbo’s close proximity to I-35 so their vendors could easily get in and out with deliveries. This is a huge reason, around the country, and for many decades, it’s not “If you build it, they will come.”, it’s “If you build it right off the expressway, they will come.”

    Most of these county highway roads cannot handle a lot of heavy traffic.
    They just cannot. And from what I heard in OK, no one wants to build any new roads. We have to do with what we have. So many roads were built
    around this country, and many are not hardly used at all once you get out of the cities.

    September 4, 2008
  20. David Ludescher said:

    Curt: Let’s hear your explanation.

    September 4, 2008
  21. Curt Benson said:

    David, I was hoping you had an explanation. Did Northfield go after this company?

    The article cites cooperation with the City of Faribault, Rice County and Wells township:

    “Officials from Faribault, Rice County and Wells Township cooperated and worked with Met-Con, which Zabinski said was one of five developers originally being considered for the project. In addition, state Rep. Patti Fritz (DFL-Faribault) and Sen. Dick Day (R-Owatonna) wrote letters in support of the project. The chambers of commerce for Faribault and Minnesota got involved, as did Tim Penny, president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. That cooperation and widespread support was key to Moventas proceeding with Faribault as an option. ”

    I think Bright is right about transportation. The company makes gearboxes for windturbines that are so large they can only transport one per semi load. Maybe winding through the woods to 35 on 19 is too much to ask.

    South Central College has a well regarded machining technology program in place already. Their willingness to help educate the skilled workers was also cited in the article.

    The recent development on the north side of Faribault that you can see from the freeway is impressive. Probably not historic looking enough to please the “special place” gang, but good jobs for real people, not to mention adding to the tax base.

    September 4, 2008
  22. Ross Currier said:

    Bright –

    You bring up a couple of very good points.

    A year or two ago, I was part of an informal group of community people who discussed possible initiatives to strengthen Northfield’s economy. Among the ideas they discussed, frankly the “three big ones”, were a medical teaching campus associated with the hospital, a technical college like the one in Faribault, and a business park northwest of the hospital.

    Due to a number of significant challenges, and there was in fact some effort at research and exploration, the first two ideas were abandoned and the group began to focus its energy on the third. At that point, it seemed that the group disbanded.

    Perhaps your comment suggests that we put the cart before the horse. Without training the appropriate work force, it may be difficult for Northfield to compete for those types of jobs.

    Even more important, at least in my mind, are your and Curt’s comments about transportation. Maybe the first thing that ad hoc group should have discussed was improving our transportation network.

    Frankly, both of those investments, creating a technical college and fixing our transportation network, involve substantial investment. Furthermore, I am not certain that pursuing such a plan, creating an industrial work force and building a transportation system for heavy industry, maximizes economic leverage from our existing assets, at least if we’re focused on getting the biggest bang for the buck.

    It was interesting, at least to me, to read some of the financial details of the Moventus deal. For the $8 million project, the city, county and state are chipping in $4.3 million and the developer is adding another $400,000. I think it’s helpful to understand what type of public investment is necessary for such a project.

    It might also be useful for Northfield to know what kind of initial infrastructure investments were already in place in the business park so that the property was ready for Moventus. I’ve driven by the site several times this summer and it already looks like a business park from the road, so somebody has spent some money pursuing this vision.

    I would also be interested in hearing how many acres the company needed. The plant is 75,000 square feet. Assuming that it’s all on one level, that would require almost two acres of 43,560 square feet each for the footprint alone. Then there’s the parking for the 200 hoped-for workers, at 9′ by 11′ (let’s call it 100 square feet), that would be another half acre. I wonder if they fit the entire complex on a five acre site; perhaps they went for ten or fifteen acres for future expansion.

    Thanks Curt, for bringing this story to our attention. Those of us interested in creating jobs and growing the tax base in Northfield can find much valuable information in it.

    – Ross

    September 5, 2008
  23. Anne Bretts said:

    Faribault certainly has momentum, a really tight team of people doing focused promotion and a smart strategy in growing development north along I-35. The downtown still has challenges, but the area along the highway really has become quite amazing in just the few years I have lived here.
    As for training, liberal arts colleges aren’t appropriate settings for vocational job training, so South Central is the right place for that.
    It seems that Northfield has a lot to learn from what’s happening right down the road. Perhaps studying its methods would shed some light on what’s possible here.

    September 5, 2008
  24. Anne Bretts said:

    Ross, your comments explain a lot about what needs to be considered in Northfield. The first thing is a big dose of realism. The idea that anyone even considered a teaching hospital as a possibility shows a phenomenal lack of understanding of what is realistic for Northfield. A teaching hospital is an incredibly sophisticated facility serving a critical mass of patients and is by its nature aligned with a medical school. Northfield is a small “feeder” hospital with minimal services more than an hour from any teaching university. Your docs are from Mayo, which has its own teaching hospital, and it’s providing docs because it needs to feed more patients to its system.
    Likewise, getting a new technical college campus isn’t the first step. Today, campuses aren’t being built, they’re being leased in office spaces while many classes are being done online.
    The first step is to look at the enrollment at South Central to see how many students are from Northfield. You prove that it makes sense to offer a few classes here to save gas, etc. As you generate the students, the colleges will bring more classes to town. Bring more students and you create the demand that proves a campus is necessary. And the trend is to have a “learning center” where many colleges and universities can lease a classroom or two to offer programs.
    Again, studying Faribault, Lakeville and some small towns around the region will give you a wealth of information on what’s realistic for Northfield.

    September 5, 2008
  25. Jane Moline said:

    Faribault has a proactive business community that has sought industrital development since 1970. Northfield–well, lets just say its enthusiasm waxes and wanes like the moon. If you want your name out there as an attractive town for industrial development–you have to keep pounding pretty steady, and Faribault has this down pat. They have leadership classes that they send a certain number of chamber members to each year to help develop community relationships and pride in their business community.

    Northfield seems to pride themselves on a bit of snobbery with new comers feeling less than welcome. Faribault is a much more welcoming business community and has been for decades.

    Faribault is on 35W. Northfield is not.

    Faribault housing is more affordable than Northfield. Their tech school is not that big of an advantage, as it could also train Northfield employees but we don’t have the businesses and they would have to commute from affordable housing if they did get a job. Many of the employees for the new company will be coming from outside of Faribault (not newly minted mechanics from the tech school)–and their average pay will work out to be over $50,000 annual.

    Northfield, Dundas and some of the surrounding townships should form a joint-powers group to focus on ways to attract businesses to our school district area–and part of that group’s responsibility could be to make presentations to the Chamber, Rotary, city council, etc, on how to attract businesses. The group could also provide information to the Rice County commissioners and, dare I say, lobby for our part of the county.

    September 5, 2008
  26. David Ludescher said:

    Curt: I don’t have a good answer to why this company didn’t come. What I have heard through my Chamber board time is that the build time is too long. That is why the EDA is focusing on “shovel ready” land.

    Plus, as you mention, the idea that Northfield is special, and will only accept certain types of businesses is fairly well known in the development community.

    September 5, 2008
  27. Bill Ostrem said:

    One area that Northfield does well in is in services and residences for the elderly. This college town is becoming a retirement town, and we have growth in that industry to prove it. The college alumni and others see this as an attractive place to retire. How can we capitalize on that for the future? Can the business park play a role in that? How can we provide affordable housing for those serving the elderly?

    Also, it seems possible that college faculty might produce spin-off businesses. Many of you would know more about that than I do. While the colleges are not research universities, the faculty do produce significant research. One example is the work of St. Olaf faculty on green chemistry. That field has huge potential to change many aspects of our industry and society – making industrial processes cheaper and greener at the same time, for example. I hope the EDA and city leaders will keep the potential of the colleges and of high-tech industry in mind. Keep the lines of communication open, and things may happen. It would behoove the colleges to be open to this as well, since donor dollars would flow from successful businesses.

    September 6, 2008
  28. kiffi summa said:

    Bill: Thanks for making this very important point (#29)… I have always wondered since moving here in ’95, why the colleges are not more integrated into the developmental aspects of the community. They are our own “think tanks” if they choose to be.
    I no longer see the non-productive “town/gown” attitudes that were somewhat openly voiced in ’95. I never could understand the idea that the colleges were anything but pure benefit for Northfield. I see them as our “industry”.
    If the annexation actually goes through, by getting a successful annexation agreement between NF and Greenvale Twp., then I can imagine the western section Green Corridor, as identified by the City’s Green Corridor Map, being planned and developed with the help of St. Olaf. What a fabulous asset!

    September 6, 2008
  29. Ross Currier said:

    Anne –

    I find your tone condescending and insulting.

    Building on our medical industry was one of the recommendations in the TIP Strategies report. In fact, a team of Northfielders, including current and retired executives from the local medical community, traveled to Mayo in Rochester, meeting with the woman who runs their teaching facility and the man who directs their business expansion.

    They were very interested in Northfield, have in fact considered, even broached, possible partnerships with one of colleges, with us focused on one specific area of learning as an entry strategy, and discussed the regional market potential and challenges for such a facility. Ultimately we all recognized that addressing the start-up costs, essentially shouldering all of the risk, would be a difficult task for Northfield.

    In my opinion, the educational industry is one of Northfield’s greatest assets, the medical industry has one of the greatest potentials for growth, and considering ideas that might gain leverage from these industries makes good sense. We’ll probably have to explore a number of these ideas before we achieve the desired economic success.

    – Ross

    September 6, 2008
  30. The undeveloped farmland should be used for greenhouses to grow flowers and specialty food items like herbs, baby corn, greens, and other expensive fruits and vegetables that are being flown and trucked in at a great costs from South America and Mexico.

    Food prices are so high now and everyone is boostering eating locally, but nothing significant is being done as far as expansion on what is available goes.

    As for keeping flowers on the table, I have had to resort to silks becuz the prices of flowers, and the lowered quality have knocked me out of the market long ago.

    September 6, 2008
  31. Oh, and let me add that the greenhouses should be developed using all the green technology possible. I’d even invest in a place like that. Have it be owned by the City of Northfield residents, maybe.

    September 6, 2008
  32. Anne Bretts said:

    Ross, thanks for your explanation. Didn’t mean to sound condescending, but the idea as originally stated, the idea of building a medical school, was simply stunning. And as you noted, even a very, very limited teaching program wasn’t feasible.
    I have nothing against dreaming and thinking outside the box, but building on what’s realistic and achievable seems to be a better way to create teamwork and success, which is badly needed here and will lead to larger leaps. My concern is that so many ideas are presented in this town that simply haven’t been researched at all. The tone is that we deserve these things (downtown theater, major restaurant chains, etc.) without any understanding of the realities of the market or the industries involved.
    I know the hatred of consultants here, but it would seem that hiring someone to survey all the businesses that have located or expanded here, in Lakeville and in Faribault over the last five years would provide critical data on what businesses came and why, what the costs were and why they did or didn’t choose Northfield.

    September 6, 2008
  33. Anne Bretts said:

    Also, building on the medical community is tricky. Should the city hospital system compete (more than it does) against private medical providers? Should the city invest in shovel ready land for new medical providers that compete with current providers? Would a medical campus near the hospital cannibalize the existing medical corridor along Jefferson Road?
    I’m not making a judgment, just asking.

    September 6, 2008
  34. David Ludescher said:

    Ross: Realistically, don’t you think that Jane and Anne are both right? Pursuing industries that don’t pay property taxes doesn’t make much economic sense, even if doing so had a realistic chance of success.

    Further, I don’t put much faith in the TIPS Strategies Report. Its conclusion was that Northfield needed to preserve its “sense of place”. “Sense of place” is a pretty nebulous concept when applied to economic development.

    September 6, 2008
  35. I’m excited to see the continuing conversation on this matter. Here’s the latest on annexation negotiations:

    Greenvale Township could receive $265,000 as compensation for 530 acres of farmland if Northfielders agree to a possible new term in a draft annexation agreement.

    That’s far more than Northfield administrators proposed three weeks ago, which was $13,250 over two years. City officials are considering annexing the township’s land to develop into an industrial park.

    Northfield’s offer met the minimum compensation standards as defined in Minnesota state law, section 414.036.

    Northfield’s draft annexation agreement read, “The City of Northfield will reimburse Greenvale Township the amount of property taxes that Greenvale would have collected on the property being annexed for a period of two full years from the effective date of the annexation agreement.”

    Greenvale supervisor Richard Moore said the township currently taxes the farmland owners about $12.50 per acre each year. Under the Northfield agreement, the compensation fee could therefore total about $13,250.

    Furthermore, the agreement reads, Northfield taxpayers would immediately assume the costs of maintaining the annexed property.

    Greenvale’s three supervisors are considering hiring Dean R. Johnson, president of Resource Strategies Corporation in Minnetonka, as a negotiating consultant. The men discussed the agreement with about a dozen township residents at a meeting Wednesday in the township hall. No Northfield officials attended in order to allow residents some privacy in discussing a counter-offer.

    Johnson told the supervisors that the offer Northfield officials are making to compensate the township for its land is “woefully, woefully low in comparison with typical ‘orderly annexation’ agreements.”

    Johnson suggested Greenvale supervisors require landowners to petition for annexation. For each acre of land an owner asked Northfield to annex, that owner (or a developer) would pay Greenvale $500. That fee could go up to adjust for inflation, Johnson said.

    The petition method of annexation, according to Johnson, usually causes landowners to seek annexation only when a sale agreement with a developer is imminent. However, the method would not restrict Northfielders from annexing all 530 acres at once as long as Greenvale was compensated.

    He went on to say that the fee seems reasonable when put into perspective. In today’s market, Johnson estimated, an industrial developer could pay about $20,000 for a single acre of undeveloped farmland and spend another $80,000 to develop it.

    Brian O’Connell, Northfield’s community development director, and Joel Walinski, interim city administrator, first presented the city’s draft annexation agreement to the Greenvale supervisors.

    “We’re aware that the going rate sometimes will be as much as $500 an acre,” O’Connell said from his office on Friday, upon hearing of Greenvale’s potential counter-offer. “But, my initial reaction to that is, “How does that [figure] bear on what the state statute says?”

    According to Johnson, other townships he has worked with have been able to receive more compensation than the law requires because cities would rather pay townships more money than enter into a legal battle over negotiations.

    O’Connell said, if necessary, Northfielders would likely not be averse to paying some legal expenses.

    But, he said, “We’re eager to sit down with the township and work out these issues.”

    At least one Greenvale resident grew upset at Johnson’s suggestions for developing a counter-offer during Wednesday’s meeting. David Sorem, a farmer and one of the property owners seeking annexation into Northfield, asked the audience why the city’s initial compensation offer was not good enough.

    Eventually, Sorem stood up and left the meeting. Moore appeared to sympathize with Sorem’s feelings. Moore said he would expect whoever bought Sorem’s land for industrial development would pay extra in order to cover the $500 per acre annexation fee, so that the expense would not fall to Sorem.

    In addition to the matter of compensation, Greenvale supervisors led discussions about other parts of Northfield’s draft annexation agreement. In particular, supervisors expressed concerns about how a potential industrial park could affect traffic flow. The supervisors also talked about a provision in the agreement that would allow developers to build some private residences on the annexed property.

    The supervisors voted to hold a special meeting to discuss the agreement further on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

    September 6, 2008
  36. I certainly don’t know everything, but that never kept anyone from having a voice…having said that, in real estate, there is a standard used that talks about the highest and best use of land. To give some perspective, in Oklahoma, one acre sells for $500 for scrub land, to $2,000 for good hay growing land. Most in between is open or used for grazing purposes sells for $1,000 per acre.

    Minnesota has some of the best farmland in the country, and as such should not be paving it over just because they can.

    More on why companies like building near the expressways…1)they can put a few ten foot high letters on their buildings for free advertisement, 2)they don’t have to bother the neighbors as they vibrate through neighborhoods,
    3 and 4) They can save gas and time. For instance, going an extra 6 miles, 12 miles round trip, once a week, can save 600 miles or 15 hours per year. If nothing else, trucking firms are ALL about time and money. If Northfield wants to reduce pollution, hey, here’s your chance.

    Northfield Decision Makers, why try to force Northfield to be something it isn’t, just so you can have a legacy with your name on it? People moved here for it’s peace and quiet and old timey ways and appearance. You have already half destroyed that! Do you really want to continue down that
    road ?

    September 6, 2008
  37. victor summa said:

    Bonnie Obrem! Good report. Thanx…

    Northfield is indebted to you for your pursuit of this issue. Score one for the BLOG!

    Hope your Georgia oversight group sees this as worthwhile coverage. I can see the headline now. Bonnie’s Blog Makes Bid For Pulitzer.

    Back to Greenvale. So, what would you expect the GV consultant say? … “You’re in a no win situation, take the crumbs and be happy.” Not likely. They (consultant) are in the biz of selling their services. Can they (will they) guarantee the $500 per acre fee structure? Hopefully the G’vale Supers will read the small print and realize there is sky blue and there is reality.

    Northfield, potentially has a workable situation in developing a manageable position with the property owners … spend some money on planning … applying the good name of Northfield MN to the already valuable land and wait until the sun rises on a better day.

    What all involved parties (EDA, Property Owners, Governmental units) need to do is get together and work out a fiscally realistic plan and a GREAT land use plan … spend as few dollars on these as possible and then, water those seeds.

    That’s moving forward … but not blindly.

    Will the new council go along? I believe the fiscally responsible Mayoral Incumbent will. This is a time for the people to speak at the Ballot Box and put new people on the Council, who are in step with Lansing’s fiscal reality and make the annexation work for everyone

    Election? Would you like vix-pix? Me, Delong, Buckheit, McGee, and Lansing.

    September 6, 2008
  38. Anne Bretts said:

    I would be cautious of the figure of $20,000 an acre. Given the massive amounts of ‘shovel ready’ land held by residential developers, farmers and bankers who are trying to clear their books of foreclosures, the price per acre in much more desirable areas is pretty much in the tank. All the available properties and recent sales are available online, so it’s no big deal to see what’s reasonable.

    September 6, 2008
  39. Peter Waskiw said:

    Can anyone tell me if a decision by the City of Northfield City Council to spend millions of tax payers dollars for shovel ready infrastructure for the business park come under a reverse referendum process?

    September 7, 2008
  40. David Ludescher said:

    Victor: Are you speaking as an EDA member, a Council candidate or as an individual?

    September 8, 2008
  41. victor summa said:

    David L … while I would concede that the job (vote) of EDA member and Councilor may be different … and that my personal opinion might not necessarily always reflect the greater good as you might perceive it ( on certain issues ) in the case of my comments in #38 …

    Election? Would you like vix-pix? Me, Delong, Buckheit, McGee, and Lansing.

    that quote is definitely, as a candidate and … as an individual

    The broader body of the text in that comment regarding my reaction to G’vale’s consultant and the advice it gave to the Twpshp …. At this juncture, with no further discussion (and enlightenment) I ‘d stand behind that summary position wearing on all three hats … EDA member, Council Candidate and individual.

    It is fair to say that I’m running for Council to advance my ideals for Northfield … I sought a role on the EDA for the same reason … and without a precise survey of what I’ve said as a candidate or an individual in the past … I believe I have always functioned in that manner. I believe we locked horns on the “stump” in the 90’s over your denigrating remarks directed toward the Living Community Initiative. I’d say neither of us as strayed far from our positions then … on every issue coming down Hwy 3!

    Incidentally, I successfully sought a seat on the Charter Commission for the same reasons.

    As I pointed out in my interview for Temporary Councilor filling the seat vacated by Cashman, when asked if I had the time to devote to the council My response: ” I am on the EDA, I am on the Charter … and if elected (or in that case appointed) my personal goals would be to continue to serve on all three …

    NOTE: Charter Comm. and EDA are the only two Boards or Commissions that by statute allow for that kind of cross-over service.

    Back to the Annexation comment.

    Some time back, my (individual ) position on the proposed annexation site was, the Future Land Use Map of the Comp Plan, provided the control of that land (and any similarly categorized land) on the fringe of Northfield … thus it was not imperative that we annex to control … and participate in cooperation with those seeking good development. But, as the Council had already given the nod to annexation , sans a concept Plan … thus, requiring a different kind of development process, I have worked since last October on the EDA to support the development as it might unfold … but with strong controls in place, insuring the Community the outcome it seems to want.

    I point out here my voice and vote on the EDA are often not in accord with that majority, as you might recall if you were in attendance at the August Dunbar Associates presentation at Viking Theater … or if you attended any EDA meetings … or if you viewed the Obremski video of that event.

    Celebrate, the not so silent, minority.

    September 8, 2008
  42. Bonnie Obremski said:

    By the way, here is the full text of Northfield’s draft annexation proposal:

    Greenvale Township/City of Northfield
    Orderly Annexation Agreement

    The orderly annexation agreement between Greenvale Township and the City of Northfield will occur as a result of negotiations between the two governmental units. The following proposal represents the City of Northfield’s initial offerings in the formation of this annexation agreement.


    ? Additional annexation beyond the 530 acres requested as part of the this annexation will not occur unless the additional annexation is in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan of the City of Northfield.

    ? Road improvements to Garrett Avenue or some other unspecified road (Cedar Avenue extension) will occur as development adjacent to Garrett Avenue or some other unspecified road occurs and is approved by the City of Northfield.

    ? Greenvale Township will continue to maintain Garrett Avenue from North Avenue to 320th Street and North Avenue from Eaves Avenue to Garrett Avenue for the length of time that the City of Northfield provides a tax reimbursement to Greenvale Township.

    ? The City of Northfield will reimburse Greenvale Township the amount of property taxes that Greenvale would have collected on the property being annexed for a period of two full years from the effective date of the annexation agreement.

    ? Residential development in the area proposed to be annexed will constitute no more than 20% of the net developable area and will be mixed residential land uses and mixed residential price points. Residential development will occur in a phase as defined in a Master Plan for the area being annexed.

    September 8, 2008
  43. Ross Currier said:

    Anne and David –

    Clearly our analysis of Northfield’s economic opportunities has led us to different conclusions.

    When trying to build our our economic strengths, I start with the St. Olaf and Carleton. Between the two of them, these institutions provide about 20% of the jobs in Northfield. If you add the service jobs that only exist because of the presence of the two colleges, they probably account for a good third of all the employment in our community. That calculation doesn’t include the Northfield Public Schools, another major employer with a reputation for excellence.

    Next on the list of employers after the colleges is the Northfield Hospital. The top ten also includes the Allina Medical Clinic. If you include the caregivers such Three Links, the Northfield Retirement Center, and Laura Baker also on the list, this sector provides over 10% of the jobs in Northfield.

    Therefore, my first thought, and that of at least some others, is to try to identify economic development opportunities that get leverage from the colleges and the caregivers. My analysis of Northfield’s differentiation leads me to think that a teaching facility might have a market advantage based on our workforce’s excellence in these areas. Admittedly, the geographic location and current transportation system also play a role in such major decisions.

    Our leading manufacturing company, Malt-O-Meal, adds intellectual enhancement to basic agricultural commodities, and, again, has a reputation for excellence. They do not bend metal.

    At Moventus, they bend metal. Admittedly, they bend metal for windmills, which sounds real “green”, hip and intellectual. Nevertheless, the company was probably looking for a community that has an extensive track record for bending metal. Although Northfield certainly has some examples of excellence in this field, mostly related to the Machacek family, Faribault probably has us beat in this category.

    Certainly, Moventus brings potential tax base to Faribault. However, with over half of the $8 million dollars ($4.3 million to be precise) in development costs coming from the public sector, I’m not sure how much in tax receipts the city, county and state are going to actually net. After repaying the public investment in infrastructure and additional incentives, it might be a decade or so before the community receives any significant tax benefits.

    There are the 90 jobs that are going to be created. A number of them will be management level. However, most of them are going to be metal-bending jobs that start at $12 to $13 an hour.

    If Northfield tax payers are going to pay for the $7 to 8 million dollars to bring the infrastructure out to the new business park, the $7 million dollars per 250 acres to develop infrastructure on the site, and whatever other subsidies are necessary to win the competition for a new employer, we’re really talking about making an investment in our future, not creating a cash cow for tax revenue.

    With a realistic analysis of the costs and benefits, I would suggest that we need to look at what kind of jobs are going to be created from the investment for our evaluation of the potential return. Thus, I come back to the colleges and the caregivers.

    Jobs in the education and medical industries tend to pay more than jobs in the metal-bending industries. Those jobs also, in my opinion, better fit Northfield’s “Sense of Place” in an economic development context.

    – Ross

    September 8, 2008
  44. Curt Benson said:

    Ross, you are correct to raise the issue of the cost to subsidize bringing Moventus to Faribault.

    The rest of your comment is baloney. I think you’d do well to go back and reread Griff’s blog thread regarding snobbery and boboism in Northfield. I commented in that thread about how Northfield students on a vocational track (they’re called V wingers, and not that fondly) are looked down upon. Your blog post makes that point better than anything I can write. I think the real issue is elitism.

    You comment that most of the jobs at Moventus are “metal bending” jobs that start at $12-13/hour. If the pay were the real issue, you’d abandon your downtown merchants now. Perhaps there are servers (“elbow bending jobs”) at the bars that make that much when you include tips. But I bet the median income those involved in the retail trade, including the shop owners is less than $12-13/hour. I bet their health care benefits, if they are offered at all, are less than those at Moventus.

    No, the real issue is “metal bending” jobs don’t fit Northfield’s sense of place. You’d hate to have to rub elbows with unsightly blue collar people in your “special place”.

    Besides being elitist and obnoxious, the idea of accepting only the kind of industries that appeal to the sensibilities of the elites seems to be based on the idea that there is a queue of industries lined up to move here to enjoy Northfield’s special downtown. There is no such queue.

    Faribault is not hamstrung by elite attitudes and they’re cleaning our clock.

    September 8, 2008
  45. Bill Ostrem said:

    Ross and others,

    As you may already know, St. Olaf has a nursing program, so medical education already exists here in Northfield. Here is an excerpt about it:

    Nursing at St. Olaf

    The Minnesota Intercollegiate Nursing Consortium (MINC), the nursing program at St. Olaf working in cooperation with that of Gustavus Adolphus College, offers students the opportunity to enjoy a St. Olaf education, earn a bachelor of arts degree with a major in Nursing, enroll in nursing courses with students from another college, enjoy courses taught by professors from two colleges, and have clinical learning experiences in a wide variety of local and Twin Cities medical and health care centers, long-term care facilities, community agencies, home health, and other facilities.

    September 8, 2008
  46. Bill Ostrem said:

    I think Curt makes some valid points, though I think there is some truth in what Ross says: an industrial manufacturer may see Faribault as a better place for their business.

    I do think we have to be open to all sorts of businesses. Many manufacturing jobs require technical skills now, and manufacturers have had a difficult time finding skilled workers – surprising but true even now.

    On the other hand, for all I know Faribault may be missing out on some of the types of jobs Ross is talking about because it has its own set of blinders on. It may be seeking out warehouses and manufacturers but not bioengineering and medical device firms. Let’s not assume Faribault is without its own problems.

    September 8, 2008
  47. Not sure where to post this post, but um, I Am sure it fits in somewhere…
    Did any one see the tv news on Lakeville’s volunteer project of an indoor hockey rink and two other large areas for sports. They used boards from some old sports arena in the cities, and all they could do by hand without costing any money. All donated to a point. I guess now the heavy machinery and operators come in, but they saved a couple of million of dollars.

    I thought Northfield could do that with greenhouses for growing food on the proposed business park proposal, so that we don’t have to depend on South America and Mexico, where they spray the hell out of plants with herb and insecticides cuz of how many and how rugged their pests and weeds are, and then ship it all the way up here over 1000 miles. . It’s a good compromise, doesn’t need all that much effort and won’t damage the land for future farming.

    I have to say again how awful it is to cover up incredibly good black gold farmland over and over again when it takes centuries to rebuilt that and when there are so many houses that could be refurbished in the cities. You can’t just keep running from the cities, you know. Like Chicago, before long there was no where to run, so they revamped the neighborhoods, made them livable and more, and people actually moved back by the millions…like 1-2 million.

    Chicago’s population breathes like 3-5 million people in the city proper.
    People are actually moving back to the twin cities now from the burbs cuz they spend too much time on the road, too much gas money paid out, and
    away from their kids too long, and the mortgages too high.

    You have to take care of the crime, and then the pollution will be reduced as people live closer to their jobs. But Northfield does not have the infrastructure to handle much traffic. It really doesn’t, and if you can show me a study that is credible that says people are gonna build more roads, I will change my tune, possibly.

    September 8, 2008
  48. Oh, one more thing. Farbo has a great airport, right next to the expressway, too. All we have is Stanton, which is a great historic field, but it is a grass field and can only handle small personal craft and gliders.

    September 8, 2008
  49. Ross Currier said:

    Curt –

    You are wrong and insulting.

    I do not dismiss metal-benders. In fact, in my years of following economic development, I have heard people gloat over their community’s skill at metal-bending. They summarize many businesses, including those most would consider “high tech”, as metal-benders. Then they add, “…and we’re real good at metal-bending”, thus recognizing and touting their community’s distinct advantage in competing for those businesses.

    You know nothing of me. My extended family includes a number of people who have spent their lives in, as you prefer, “the vocational track”. Many of them make higher incomes, own more expensive toys, and belong to more exclusive clubs than the family members who have advanced degrees. When we get together, there is none of this artifical “us and them” that seems so important to your world view. It’s all about paying the bills, having a little fun, and wanting the best for our kids.

    You are correct about the salaries in retail…and the lack of health care benefits. Most industrial have solved the latter issue and on the former issue, I think Main Street compares favorably with the Big Box. Believe me, I would greatly prefer the $12 to $13 per hour wages at Moventus to the $8.23 per hour at WalMart in the new business park.

    I agree with Bill, metal-bending now includes an intellectual enhancement of the product, frankly at much the same level of that in code construction. However, there remains a required dexterity in shaping elements and alloys. My understanding is that the Machacek family, recognized as the absolute “elite” of the local metal-benders, is largely retired from the business. Thus, I think Faribault may have an advantage in attracting those types of manufacturers.

    I am sorry that you saw only a red cape in my comment. I think your crashing forward, charging at imagined bobos in monteras, has caused you to completely miss my point.

    There is not a single metal-bending business in the top fifteen employers in Northfield. The closest thing to what you would consider to be “blue collar” industries might be the two firms that I would characterize as “coating-appliers”. These firms both, by the way, have reputations for excellence.

    Finally Curt, you seem to think, or at least argue, that there are no similarities between metal-benders and medical-technicians. When I rub elbows with them both, I find their concerns and dreams to be quite similar, much like those of my family.

    – Ross

    September 8, 2008
  50. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I cannot believe the level of discourse that is going on here. You talk of a “civil” discourse, but you constantly allow personal accusation as opposed to substance.
    Curt: you are so far beyond your “malevolent pokenoses” … which you have graciously apologized for, several times … that I can’t believe it. What is the cause of this excessive personal animosity?
    Griff: There is little difference between this open personal attack of Curt’s, and Anne’s persistent use of repetitive denigrating phrases about anyone who cares to participate in a more up front way than the faceless (whether gravatar or cabbage head) distance of a blog. You refuse to let some persons respond to others but you allow the response to be pseudo-anonymously directed!
    What happened to a discussion with some substance which goes back and forth with new points being raised and discussed? Haven’t you noticed that it is rare for a new issue to be introduced into a discussion and get responded to WITHOUT a personal attack.

    If this kind of Crap (tracy’s word) continues, you will have a situation as meaningless as the anonymity of the NFnews comments, where the same meaningless phrases are constantly repeated, over and over.

    By the way, I submit this on this thread rather than on the moderation thread, so that people can view this recent exchange between Ross and Curt.

    September 8, 2008
  51. David Ludescher said:

    Ross: I read your post #45 the same way Curt did. Your conclusion was that education and medical services fit your “sense of place” better than factory jobs.

    You said that Curt completely missed your point. But, it sounded to me like you said that you don’t care if Northfield loses a “metal-bender” because you would like to chase after your pet industries, regardless of feasibility or economic sense.

    You should also remember that non-property tax paying industries create substantial residential properties that further exacerbates the property tax issues. Critical to Northfield’s success will be growing or hanging on to blue collar industries like College City Beverage.

    September 8, 2008
  52. Patrick Enders said:

    I, too, mistook your repeated use of “metal bending” to be some kind of a slight or negative statement on those industrial jobs. I am glad to hear that you did not intend that.

    The colleges are a great treasure, and I do believe we need to look to ways to keep more of the talented graduates of those schools here in Northfield, but Curt does have a point (if bluntly stated). Industrial jobs are better than retail jobs, even the ones in our beloved downtown. A wide spectrum of employers, including metal benders, would be best for the overall health of our community.

    September 8, 2008
  53. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, tho I think there’s been a few bumps, I think it’s going okay here.

    Anne, your tone was hard for Ross to take and he said so… and you changed your tone.

    Curt, you reacted too strongly to Ross’ post (‘baloney’ and accusations of snobbery) and I think Ross responded with a more detailed explanation… that ‘metal bending’ was not put-down of that industry. I’m eager to see your response to him.

    I think this latest back and forth re: Fbo and Nfld economic development has been informative. Let’s keep it going… carefully!

    September 8, 2008
  54. Patrick Enders said:

    Ross wrote,

    Jobs in the education and medical industries tend to pay more than jobs in the metal-bending industries. Those jobs also, in my opinion, better fit Northfield’s “Sense of Place” in an economic development context.

    Choosing the types of jobs that we value/seek based on how they fit our “Sense of Place” can be a dangerous thing. First, it limits our options. Second, it does play into the sense that Northfield is perceived as a snobbish/elitist place, and in danger of becoming more so if we don’t broaden our economic base. I’m not suggesting free-wheeling ‘anything goes’ development – and especially not unfettered ‘big box’ development, but non-retail employment opportunities of many stripes should be encouraged.

    Also, there are limits to the potential for growth in both medicine and higher education. I think Anne Bretts comments in #26 are quite accurate in this regard, and worthy of further discussion. (Try to ignore the personal criticism in the first two sentences, and look to her points in the rest of the post.)

    September 9, 2008
  55. Patrick Enders said:

    Anne wrote,

    The idea that anyone even considered a teaching hospital as a possibility shows a phenomenal lack of understanding of what is realistic for Northfield. A teaching hospital is an incredibly sophisticated facility serving a critical mass of patients and is by its nature aligned with a medical school. Northfield is a small “feeder” hospital with minimal services more than an hour from any teaching university. Your docs are from Mayo, which has its own teaching hospital, and it’s providing docs because it needs to feed more patients to its system.

    Likewise, getting a new technical college campus isn’t the first step. Today, campuses aren’t being built, they’re being leased in office spaces while many classes are being done online.
    The first step is to look at the enrollment at South Central to see how many students are from Northfield. You prove that it makes sense to offer a few classes here to save gas, etc. As you generate the students, the colleges will bring more classes to town. Bring more students and you create the demand that proves a campus is necessary. And the trend is to have a “learning center” where many colleges and universities can lease a classroom or two to offer programs.
    Again, studying Faribault, Lakeville and some small towns around the region will give you a wealth of information on what’s realistic for Northfield.

    I think Anne is particularly right on the need for technical education in our community, and possibly on how to approach it. Our colleges produce graduates with an excellent liberal arts education, but those educations (like my BA in Anthropology and History) don’t tend to produce people who are ready to start businesses and innovate right out of the box. So they go off somewhere else after graduation to continue their training, or enter an established company. We have a serious lack of opportunities for people seeking training in (or already posessing training in) engineering, computers, and other essential skill sets.

    September 9, 2008
  56. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, Patrick. It’s really important to realize that with vocational campuses in Rosemount, Red Wing and Faribault, going for a physical campus just isn’t realistic, especially with state budgets as tight as they are. Enticing many technical and vocational schools to offer classes at the NCRC, the high school or even in space at St. Olaf or Carleton would be a great first step.
    Rochester has 13 colleges and universities offering classes, many of them in leased space. A group is putting together a concept called the EdCampus in Chaska, where many colleges will be able to lease classroom space.
    Of course, getting tax-paying businesses should be the focus. Training tends to reflect the needs of the job market. Again, studying the successes of other communities is the key to replicating that success. It also would be good to study the enrollment at the public campuses to see how many students are coming from Northfield and what they are studying. It might be viable to bring a few classes here on a test basis.

    September 9, 2008
  57. Larry DeBoer said:

    Curt, I agree with you completely regarding the discussion of Moventus and Faribault. To reduce the Finnish company’s products as coming from “metal benders” shows a total lack of understanding of the sophisticated mechanical engineering, precision metallurgy and electrical engineering that comprise the wind turbine. Everyone should go to the web site – – to study the high tech industry.

    One large wind turbine company called Vestus of Denmark was chosen to deliver the two Northfield wind turbines. General Electric sources both Vestus and Moventus for their transmission systems. Do you think we should refer to GE as “metal benders”?

    The best thing the metal benders bring to a community is that they PAY PROPERTY TAXES – none of the colleges, city hospital nor the huge school districts pay a penny!

    September 9, 2008
  58. Bill Ostrem said:

    Yes, growth in the colleges will be limited. St. Olaf, at 3,000 students, does not want more b/c it’s at the upper end of “small” liberal arts colleges. But that doesn’t mean that its nursing graduates couldn’t supply badly needed nurses to local medical facilities.

    Patrick is heading in the right direction with the notion of long-distance learning, satellite classes, and so on. Some center such as that here could provide classes from the counties, vo-techs, MnSCU, the U of M, and other education providers.

    College graduates could produce important businesses in software and Internet-based services, though these may not start out in a business park (unless there was an office building that leased space). Some of the big players on the Web were started by college students or recent graduates. “Quality of life” issues (parks, walkability, service businesses such as cafes and restaurants, density, urban character) could be very important for attracting and keeping such businesses. Business leaders here should not be too quick to dismiss those issues, which are central to the new comprehensive plan.

    September 9, 2008
  59. Bill Ostrem said:

    I should add that I used to teach English classes at the U of M Rochester Center. The complex there is called the University Center Rochester (, and it features Rochester Community and Technical College, the U of M Rochester Center, and Winona State Univ.-Rochester.

    I don’t know what’s feasible here in Northfield, or what the needs of the local employers are. But many institutions of higher ed would be eager to have long-distance students here.

    September 9, 2008
  60. Patrick Enders said:

    Bill wrote,

    College graduates could produce important businesses in software and Internet-based services, though these may not start out in a business park (unless there was an office building that leased space). Some of the big players on the Web were started by college students or recent graduates. “Quality of life” issues (parks, walkability, service businesses such as cafes and restaurants, density, urban character) could be very important for attracting and keeping such businesses. Business leaders here should not be too quick to dismiss those issues, which are central to the new comprehensive plan.

    My hometown of Eau Claire, WI had a difficult transition from old industrial production (mostly, a Uniroyal tire factory) to a more diverse and vibrant technology-oriented economy. While they were able to draw on the strengths of the local University of Wisconsin, they were also able to turn the old Uniroyal plant into Banbury Place, a mixed-used facility, including lots of options as a place to build start-up businesses. Many successful Eau Claire businesses (as well as many flops) got their start there.

    Obviously, we don’t have a large vacant factory in town, but we do have a lot to offer on the ‘quality of life’ front. Given that, I think that a serious effort towards fostering start-up incubation – as well as developing technical education – could reap great benefits.

    September 9, 2008
  61. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: Please articulate the arguments against “free-wheeling anything goes” development. What’s the difference between a “big box” selling education and one bending metal other than one pays property taxes and the other one consumes taxes?

    How should the the economic plan for the new business park distinguish between “good” and “bad” businesses other than personal preferences on “quality of life”?

    September 9, 2008
  62. Patrick Enders said:

    The biggest difference: a production facility would be better if it paid slightly better wages and benefits. Also, one would expect the production facility to sell its wares to people outside Northfield, while paying wages in Northfield. Thus, a net gain for Northfield.

    If the products are mostly sold locally, or the wages are no better than those in retail, then there is no real difference.

    September 9, 2008
  63. Ross Currier said:

    Curt and David –

    I thought Anne’s and my discussion was about what industries it made sense to pursue, in terms of companies and jobs, not what kind of jobs for which you two or I had a preference. Personally, I don’t think it matters if you two seem to prefer alloy crafters and I allegedly prefer x-ray technicians; I believe the focus of our energies should be trying to match the industries with the community.

    If I look at the major employers in Northfield, and I’m rounding here, about 30% are probably attributable to the Education Industry. Another, say, 20% are in the Human Care Industry. There’s another big chunk in the Grain Enhancement Industry and several mid-size contingents in the High Tech Coating Application Industry.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think that when someone looking to start or relocate a business in our “Place”, their “Sense” is that we’re a lot about education and health care and not much about alloy crafting. Again, I don’t think it’s about Curt’s or David’s or my feelings about or understanding of “Sense of Place”, as much as it is about how our economic mix is perceived by the rest of the world.

    Anne and Patrick –

    In fact, the discussions with Mayo (mentioned in my comment #31) of course involved partnering with their teaching facility. The concept was to start with just one area of focus, one that might make sense in terms of the local scale of that specialty, and test the potential for growth.

    As you suggest, they brought up concerns about transportation and facilities. However, when they threw out what they seemed to think might be the deal-breaker, the required local investment for the specialized equipment (a figure that was a little more than a City Hall rehab and a little less than a new Liquor Store), I, admittedly somewhat sarcastically, suggested that if we could come up with $4 million for a swimming pool, we probably could come up with the money for the equipment.

    It seemed, at least to me, that facilities and finances were not the major stumbling blocks. Rather it seemed that the biggest concerns were Northfield’s geographic location within the regional market and its relationship to an emerging market challenger resulting from a medical-educational partnership that had recently formed in the Twin Cities.

    Curt, David, Anne and Patrick –

    I may be wrong. However, I have offered, and even pursued, specific ideas.

    Perhaps it makes more sense to you to try to emulate Faribault or Lakeville or Eau Claire. I would certainly think that we might learn from those communities. However, to me, it makes more sense to start with Northfield and to try to build on its strengths.

    – Ross

    September 9, 2008
  64. Peter Waskiw said:

    Bonnie wrote:
    “I believe city residents should demand a transparent and thorough a financial analysis of this proposed project as soon as possible”. From recent experience, other projects with City involvement in manipulating tax base to the benefit of the developer have gain bust. So again, where is the real financial analysis for this proposal before we state arguing about blue or white collar jobs?

    September 9, 2008
  65. Bill Ostrem said:

    After thinking about it more, there is snobbery in my own comment #60. “Quality of life” issues are or can be important for any business, no matter what it does or makes.

    I agree with the need to have more tax-paying businesses and to consider a wide range of businesses. From what I understand from the discussion here, non-profits do not pay property taxes. Are there some non-profits that might pay property taxes? I used to work for a large non-profit corporation.

    David L. and others, how much is the city really losing by not collecting property taxes from colleges? They give money to the city. How much less is that than what they would pay in taxes? How much more are property owners paying in property taxes compared to neighboring cities because of that?

    September 9, 2008
  66. Anne Bretts said:

    Just a point on metal-benders. The real money is in metal bending, actual manufacturing work, which largely has gone overseas. Moventus is doing assembly, which can have good jobs, but is a much different ball game.
    On healthcare and education, there still seem to be some missing pieces in the analysis. Ross, the issue is whether your numbers indicate strengths on which Northfield can build or markets that are mature and saturated, given the sparse rural population and limited potential for outreach outside the community. For example, if we have three successful car dealers, it doesn’t follow that we should seek four more.
    The healthcare we have is about basic services, not the kind of regional healthcare that would create more growth. We don’t have a system headquarters (Allina, United Health) or a research and manufacturing company (Medtronic). The services we have are branch offices of systems based elsewhere. As such, decisions on growth are made elsewhere, based on the good of the systems and not the good of Northfield. And they’re based on population density, which Northfield doesn’t have and doesn’t want.
    The nearest regional medical centers are Owatonna to the south (new $100 million hospital) and Fairview Ridges in Burnsville to the north, with Regions achieving some success in Woodbury, drawing from the area north and east of here, and of course Rochester, where Mayo has a vested interest in creating a feeder system for its facilities there. Allina has all the facilities it needs here and the clinic here is designed as a feeder for its Twin Cities facilities. I think Mayo and Allina and the other healthcare systems have made it clear there is not enough population to warrant expansion here anytime soon. Mayo ruffled a lot of feathers when it partnered with Northfield Hospital, and industry analysts aren’t sure whether it can get patients in Northfield’s clinics in Lakeville and Farmington to look to Rochester instead of Burnsville and the Twin Cities for higher levels of care than Northfield provides. It could be a very tough sell.
    As for eldercare, this also is an industry that serves an existing population base. Boomers in Minnetonka aren’t going to put their parents in nursing homes here, so expanding care here will reflect the population. With senior housing full of vacancies and a relatively small overall population, it means there’s probably limited need for expansion. There is some potential for Northfield to build on its attractiveness as a haven for retirees, but with the housing market so depressed a lot of retirees are staying where they are.
    Same with the potential for education. The two colleges at their peak enrollment. There are no major employers driving graduate degree programs or vocation education. (Rochester has tons of technical and graduate programs because Mayo alone has 30,000 employees, many of whom need to work and go to school.)
    What percentage of the 300 high school grads here each year go to 4-year colleges? If even half head off to college, that means a very small vocational school pool.
    Again, this is all about studying the numbers, and studying what works in other communities and in the industries Northfield covets. What Northfield wants might not want Northfield.
    If there’s no interest in surveying businesses or other communities, it’s easy to go to any of the major commercial real estate firms and look at their quarterly reports on all the deals, leases and new developments in each segment of the market. Knowing the competition is the first step in figuring out where the niches are and how to take advantage of them.

    September 9, 2008
  67. Patrick Enders said:

    Ross wrote,

    I would certainly think that we might learn from those communities.

    Ross, of course we should consider our strengths. I’m just saying we can also learn from other communities, and we shouldn’t get too focused on just education and medicine -especially because there is limited growth potential in each of those as presently constituted. So again, stretching away from those two just a little bit: why not work on more technical education opportunities, and more opportunity for start-up businesses?

    September 9, 2008
  68. David Ludescher said:

    Ross: The first thing that guys like you and I should do is get out of the way and let the professionals and those with “skin in the game” make the decisions about what makes economic sense. Right now, we have some really good people in place to guide the business park. Let’s give them some room to let them shine.

    September 9, 2008
  69. Ross Currier said:

    David –

    As Northfield taxpayers, it is quite clear that we’re going to have more than a little skin in the game.

    $7 to 8 million to get the infrastructure out to the business park and $7 million per 250 acres to provide infrastructure within the park. City staff, the EDA President, and the Business Park Consultant have all said that it is highly unlikely that the private sector will pay for those costs. We’re over $20 million of public investment and we haven’t even addressed the additional financial incentives that the experts, and the example of Moventus, indicate we’ll have to add to make the deal sweet enough to attract a business.

    In my opinion, that’s enough skin to participate in the decision-making process.

    – Ross

    September 9, 2008
  70. Anne Bretts said:

    The importance of being realistic about economic development dreams is outlined in a heartbreaking story by Michael Fallon. He talks about why he left his post as director of the Northfield Arts Guild and why he has lost hope in the financial viability of the arts at all levels. It is a sobering look at the economic realities of the arts here, in the Twin Cities and across the country — and a bleak outlook on creating local economies based on the arts.

    September 10, 2008
  71. Anne Bretts said:

    Also, given Mr. Fallon’s observations about Northfield’s arts community, it might make sense to consider gallery space as part of a new library. (I know this isn’t really a business park comment. Maybe it needs to be part of the CIP discussion or a new thread. I yield to your judgment, Griff.)

    September 10, 2008
  72. David Ludescher said:

    Ross: I don’t know anything about building a business park. As a business property owner and a homeowner, I think that I have a lot more skin in the game than you do. But, we aren’t being asked to pay anything right now. So, I think we need to back off and let Land Vista, the EDA, Greenvale Township, and Brian O’Connell put their heads together and tell us their plans before we shoot them out of the sky.

    September 10, 2008
  73. Larry DeBoer said:

    Bill Ostrem – To your question about how much the two colleges would pay in taxes if they were taxed like residential properties in Northfield, I did a study a few years back while I was on the Planning Commission. Using Rice County property records to determine the square footage of the two campus properties and then deducting the arboretum and the athletic fields, the two colleges together would be paying about $3 Million per year. I believe the two colleges gift the city a combined $150,000 each year near the Christmas holiday time.

    The Northfield School properties and hospital are additonal un-taxed land but we did not study their properties.

    September 10, 2008
  74. Curt Benson said:

    Ross, I had coffee with Griff the other day and he said that in the years he’s known you, he’s never noted the elitism I attributed to you in my response to your “metal bending” comment. I apologize for the harshness of my comments.

    I’m sure you noticed that several other people read your remarks the way I did, albeit without the harshness in their responses.

    When I hear the phrases like “special place” , “sense of place” and even “capitalizing on our current strengths” , I hear “let’s keep Northfield the way it is, with its anti commercial bias.”

    Regarding commercial development, I’d like to see Northfield keep all options open, including warehouses, manufacturing and even metal bending.

    September 13, 2008
  75. David Ludescher said:

    Ross: Curt’s suggestion is that monikers like “special place” and “sense of place” are used primarily to discourage certain kinds of businesses rather than encourage businesses. Do you agree with Curt’s suggestion?

    September 13, 2008
  76. Dear Anne, Bill, Bright, Curt, Jane, Kiffi, Larry, Peter, Ross and Victor,

    Thanks to everyone for bringing some very good points to this discussion. After tracking conversations about the proposed annexation and business park for about a month, I have have these questions:

    If citizens want good control over what industries move into Northfield, how should citizens gain that control?

    I had a conversation with Dan Freeman the other day and he wondered if some citizens would be interested in incorporating somehow for the sole purpose of managing the proposed park. That could be one way for Northfielders to be more proactive about marketing the park and selecting an industry. What are other ways?

    How should the city prioritize the proposed annexation/business park project among other economic development goals?

    In case anyone didn’t catch the update I posted at the tail end of the original story posting, city officials/staffers clarified that, to them, “shovel ready” only means spending hundreds of thousands on planning, not millions of dollars on actually laying the pipe.

    Would having plans in place be enough to entice industrial developers? Or do people believe the infrastructure would already have to be in the ground? How much are citizens willing to pony up for this project?

    What do plans to develop our economy in this way say about Northfield as a whole?

    September 15, 2008
  77. Bill Ostrem said:

    Larry, thanks for answering my question.

    If Larry’s figures are accurate, I still think we should avoid seeing the colleges as financial millstones around our necks. Think about how many businesses have their fortunes tied to them in significant ways, if only through the many people employed by them.

    We should actively include the colleges in the dialogue about the business park and other matters. Their alumni networks are powerful and are a great resource.

    September 16, 2008
  78. David Ludescher said:

    Bill: St. Olaf is one of the partners requesting annexation. I would think that it would be a simple matter to firm up their plans on the business park.

    At the same time, the City could talk to St. Olaf about the costs of infrastructure, the payment for it, and the preferred route of the infrastructure.

    September 16, 2008
  79. Hi, Bonnie. Sorry I have waited so long to reply to your post no.78. First of all, thanks to you and your good foot work. I see a big future for you in journalism. 🙂

    I am glad that I waited this long, because of the recent stock market developments, or anti developments as the case may be. I think a few hundred thousand dollars is not too great an expenditure, but I wonder if we don’t have enough to go through now. I am really against expansion and development in Northfield, because the very reason we moved here is now quicky going out the window, and that is peace, quiet and low crime. I now hear traffic out my window every evening as i drift off to dreamland. It’s like Chicago, the city never sleeps.

    Anyway, if jobs have to be created and if Northfield feels like it needs more companies to support it’s citizens, I say make it something that does not incur more traffic out. Let it be something Northfielders will buy. Let it be a spread of wind turbines whose energy can be sold on grid and a couple of dozen tomatoes, greens, onions, peppers, herbs, specialty and high nutrition foods greenhouses.

    Look, we are paying 7.00 for stoplight peppers that come from Holland. Peppers is one of the easiest things to grow. Why do we want to get our from Holland? Tomatoes cost more every time I go to the store. What?!?
    Why can’t we figure this out in a comprehensive way. Grow your own businesses and forget about depending on some dream team to come in and do it all for us. You want jobs, create them and base them in something we need and want…something that doesn’t go out of style or fashion, or run out of materials.

    I have always heard that if you want to do business, provide a service that fulfills a need….Shoes, clothing, housing, food and medical care.

    Thanks for listening.

    September 17, 2008
  80. Bonnie Obremski said:

    Bright: Thanks very much for your compliment and for some more of your insight. I’ve been asking around for someone who could talk to me about the possibility of putting greenhouses on the site.

    To everyone following this thread: the time is near for me to wrap this story up. I’ve got some down and dirty details, not all of them for sure, but I believe we have set a basic understanding.

    For our next step: In the next few days, I need everyone who is willing to help me look at the bigger picture. Look at the city from above. This topic has inspired debate and stirred emotions.

    What has the process told Northfielders about themselves? Anything new? Anything old?

    Why are we considering developing our economy in this way? What’s the best that could happen? The worst?

    What is Northfield’s identity and how has it come into play in our economic development?

    Thanks! And everyone should check out my update about Greenvale, attached to the bottom of the original story above. New photos, new video.

    September 22, 2008
  81. Bonnie Obremski said:

    Victor, regarding your earlier comment about Dean Johnson, Greenvale’s consultant, I asked Johnson your question and this was his e-mailed reply:

    Me: “A Northfield citizen pointed out in a comment on my past story that of course you would guarantee that figure since you’re trying to sell your services.”

    Johnson: “I’m fortunate that I don’t need to “sell” my services – I came to Greenvale at their urging and agreed because I have done work for them in the past. I certainly don’t get paid on the basis of what the value of any tax reimbursement is. I work on an hourly basis. I believe I also mentioned that Empire Township negotiated an OAA with Farmington that had no tax reimbursement – Empire only wanted permanent boundaries and City support for eventual incorporation.”

    September 22, 2008
  82. Bonnie Obremski said:

    Oh, and in case anyone reads my update and is looking for the full reply Estensen gave to my question about the Bridgewater annexation, here is what he said in an e-mail:

    “Still very preliminary in my mind but two landowners, Ken Prawer and Bob Gill, have talked with us (the EDA and the City) a couple times now about how they might go about getting to an annexation request decision. We have encouraged this discussion as the property is closely connected to the existing infrastructure of the city and has some attributes that will make it different from the land being considered in the NW by the Hospital. It also has some challenges to figure out as it contains two creeks that are very sensitive to development and needs to be evaluated closely. At this stage, we have agreed to work with the two landowners to get some drawings done that would help everyone consider what is imagined in that part of our community. They are looking at using McGhie and Betts as the firm to help in the conceptual drawings but I do not know how those negotiations have progressed in the past week. Hopefully, from my perspective, while we continue to button down the details of annexation in the NW and await a new cast of characters in City Hall in a few months, we can work with the Planning Commission, the neighbors to these landowners and other interested parties or individuals to begin the same process that LandVista accomplished with the landowners in the NW and bring something to the City to consider after the first of the new year. More options an ample supply of land seems like good long range planning in my mind. I can imagine many to suggest that since we have so many acres out in the NW that we should not even bother with this area but it will be good to have some choices and competition in the market can make for better pricing and decisions.”

    September 22, 2008
  83. Hi, Bonnie. One more thing, I have added wind turbine farm to the greenhouses. It’s very symbiotic, like cattle and pecan trees. 🙂

    September 22, 2008
  84. Oh, and I hope that Northfield will try and keep it’s small town appeal and not try to be a big city. The small towns grow together logically over time and have a better feel to it than one densely populated city.

    September 22, 2008
  85. David Ludescher said:

    Bonnie: If you are interested in the Chamber’s perspective, please contact me.

    September 22, 2008
  86. kiffi summa said:

    Bonnie: Thanks a lot for this story that you have followed step by step…
    What will we do for this kind of reporting when your year in NF is up?

    You asked some questions; here’s some observations:
    I don’t know if this process has “told” NF’ers anything about themselves, but I do believe it has reinforced the notion that there are strongly opposing factions. Are there in every town? Is this because there are only defined groups of people who will publicly speak? And then all those who don’t publicly comment make up a balance that may exist but whose “vote” doesn’t get into the mix until it comes to a vote?

    What does that mean when working on a “RepJ” project like this? Does it bring the town together or seemingly exacerbate the “split’?

    Now don’t take that as a negative for this kind of journalism project; you have provided an invaluable service for this community, in your presentation and analysis of parts of this process that would only have been available by actually being present (at the G’vale meetings, etc.)

    I think what this means is that we need to respond, as citizens , to a new form of journalism, that allows a deeper understanding of surrounding events than our small newspapers give us … but it will work best if the commenters are NOT just the usual suspects who don’t shy away from public comment. We need the residents of the community to feel comfortable with not just reading , but making their thoughts known.

    Actually, that returns to the old New England Town Meeting form of governance, that honors a lot of public participation.

    I think this is a fascinating project/grant you are working on. It can only enrich your thinking about the career you have chosen. Sorry about only answering one question, and in the process, raising a lot of others.

    September 23, 2008
  87. Thanks Bright, David and Kiffi.

    One more request as I try to wrap up: I would like to include the job titles of people who have commented on my stories. If you’ve commented on this thread, please let me know how you describe yourself. You may send an e-mail with that information to Thanks!

    September 23, 2008
  88. David Ludescher said:

    Bonnie: Just a reminder – the business park proposal is not controversial. The City Council unanimously supported the annexation. There are some malcontents, including some on the EDA and Planning Commission, trying to slow down the process; but, that is another story.

    September 23, 2008
  89. kiffi summa said:

    David: Just a reminder … the business park IS controversial…

    Were it NOT so, there would not have been all this controversy, and probably more to come as the annexation agreement struggles to resolve in a successful outcome for all.

    When labeling “malcontents”, I think you should remember your seemingly minority opinion on the Comp Plan process. Did you feel you were a “malcontent” ? or a sincere opposing viewpoint to the majority expressed?

    Too much name calling allowed on this entire site, Griff… Opposing opinions should be on substance, not on labeling/namecalling.

    It is a serious detriment to any intelligent public discourse.

    September 23, 2008
  90. Interesting. Would others here agree with David?

    September 23, 2008
  91. Curt Benson said:


    September 23, 2008
  92. I guess I don’t get it. I see conflicts everywhere with this story. And perhaps if more people saw them, it would inspire greater debate.

    -Consultants Dunbar and Shopek said making a park “shovel-ready” would mean spending millions, but city staff said they have a different definition of “shovel ready” than the consultant. Why did staff not share their definition with the consultant so that the consultant could come up with a presentation more fitting of the city’s goals?

    -I have heard plenty of different opinions, here and on the street, about how the city should prioritize spending on projects. The city council said to go ahead with annexation but, as far as I know, the council did not vote on much else regarding the industrial park, including its priority level. Therefore, there is still plenty of room for citizens to help guide their representatives along. And clearly many people, not just mal-contents, have different opinions about where the project should go when and if the land is annexed.

    There are several conflicts among the people of Greenvale as well. But maybe conflicts do not constitute controversy?

    September 23, 2008
  93. victor summa said:

    Well said Ms Obrem …

    To echo C Benson’s curt “yes” … In a different context, I’d say: YES YES!


    September 23, 2008
  94. David Ludescher said:

    Bonnie: There isn’t much sense publicly debating anything until the annexation is completed.

    September 23, 2008
  95. victor summa said:

    David L … by “debating” are you referring to commenting here and /or to the Council on your preferance? I see the Pulic discussion as the precursor to good government decision making. I’d hope that my perspective seemed to make the best sense, but as was the case in the T debate, a slim majority prevailed. Problem here in NFld is the split is too balanced. Same seems to be true in national elections. what ever happened to the “landslide?

    Maybe you reluctance to “debate” here is that you perceive the most vocal on this blog aren’t in your camp.


    September 24, 2008
  96. Bonnie Obremski said:

    OK, I think I see what you mean David. For what it’s worth, I talked with Mr. Walinsky yesterday. I said “…if the annexation goes through…” and he said, “it will go through.”

    September 24, 2008
  97. kiffi summa said:

    Bonnie: re Mr.Walinski’s comment re: the annexation: “it WILL go through”… then the next question/follow up is “Why are you confident of that outcome?”

    I think Mr. Walinski’s answer was in the realm of positive thinking; not absolute outcome.

    What if the annexation of the “NW Territories” drags on for long enough that the Prawer/Gill properties come into play? … they are immediately adjacent to the city infrastructure, and might be a less controversial option IF the issues with the protected waterways can be worked out.

    September 25, 2008
  98. […] Representative Journalism Project reports on Original story posting, click here. Most recent posting on the matter, click here. Photo by Bonnie Obremski Caption: On the left are […]

    February 18, 2009
  99. kiffi summa said:

    Bonnie : I would think that although the NF staff did the negotiating, they certainly could not sign the annexation agreement documents. When will these come to the council , or do they come to the council, before the Mayor (presumably) signs the documents?
    Do you have any information on the (20% of total land) housing developments that were shown in the NW corner of the acreage, and what the nature of the discussion re the housing issue was? I know the NF Planning Commission was solidly against housing out there…800 units, maybe……. and obviously this is not a time to be building those, but was that housing concept philosophically acceptable to the Greenvale commissioners?

    February 18, 2009
  100. You’re right Kiffi! I’m going to put up a post with a bit more info soon. The agreement goes to the Council on Monday, then to a state agency for a once-over. Then the owners of the properties in question will need to sign over their land to the city.

    February 18, 2009
  101. victor summa said:

    Bonnie… you ended your 105th remark with:


    “Then the owners of the properties in question will need to sign over their land to the city.”


    I’m not certain this is a “next step”. In fact I don’t believe it is even in the queue of the transaction process.

    My understanding is as follows:

    The so called “owners” do not sign over their property to any entity other than a buyer… some day! The City is NOT buying the farmlands, it is merely bringing them into the expanded city limits, changing the ruling government authority (RGA). The only transaction (signing over so to speak?) is between the Township and the City as to changing RGA boundaries.

    What the relevant property owners will likely enter into soon is an arrangement with the EDA for both groups (EDA and property owners) to move forward with a mutual understanding; an essential step for many Northfield citizens to feel comfortable with the annexation and the pending development. This will likely entail a mutual development agreement setting the parameters of possibilities (limits) for the farmland’s development. This might include price, various uses, working together to begin work on a development concept and other mutual understandings these two groups recognize as “essential” in the sale of the land and the city’s quest for growth, and investment in this project.

    Is that more or less what your referencing above, or is it your understanding that there will be some sort of “sign over”?


    February 19, 2009
  102. Hi Victor,

    OK, thanks for clarifying that. I was going to double check on that this morning. I mentioned the property owners in my comment because I happened to see Brian O’Connell in City Hall yesterday and he said something about still having to talk with the property owners to some extent about the annexation. I asked “Don’t they just want to go ahead with it since they’re the ones who approached Northfield about this in the first place?” And O’Connell said yes but made it seem like there was still some kind of uncertainty.

    February 19, 2009

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