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:

    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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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
  26. 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
  27. 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
  28. 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
  29. 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
  30. 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
  31. 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
  32. 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
  33. 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
  34. 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
  35. 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
  36. 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
  37. David Ludescher said:

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

    September 22, 2008
  38. 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
  39. 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
  40. 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
  41. 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
  42. Curt Benson said:


    September 23, 2008
  43. 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
  44. 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
  45. David Ludescher said:

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

    September 23, 2008
  46. 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
  47. 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

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