Brian O’Connell, Northfield Community Development Director, Frank Dunbar of Dunbar Developing Corp., Jeff Shopek of Loucks and Associates and Rick Estenson of the Northfield Economic Development Authority answered questions for about 20 minutes in front of an audience of about 36 on Thursday night in Saint Olaf’s Buntrock Commons Viking Theater. This video captures the first few minutes of the question and answer session, which took place after about an hour-long presentation regarding a proposed business park off State Highway 19.
A development planner and a civil engineer from Minneapolis showed perhaps three dozen audience members on Thursday night an equation for a $7 million project to build an industrial park off State Highway 19.
The steps citizens should expect to take in the next two or more years before reaching their development goal were on one side of the equation, planner Frank Dunbar and engineer Jeff Shopek explained.
On the other side, representing that goal was a clip-art image of a shovel. The shovel indicated the transformation of undeveloped farmland into grid-connected property primed for developers to dig foundations. The city is negotiating an annexation of some 530 acres of farmland from the adjacent Greenvale Township. The annexation was one of the steps. Other steps included acquiring necessary permits and plans, laying infrastructure and attracting an “end user.”
Shopek revealed the $7 million figure when he displayed a costs sheet during the PowerPoint presentation — a sheet he admitted was difficult for the audience to see. Shopek said he could display a spreadsheet budget later on upon request, but no one asked so he did not do so.
The estimated total cost included hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees associated with planning and engineering. According to Shopek and Dunbar, such an investment is absolutely necessary and worthwhile to attract any industrial developer to the proposed business park.
Only one person in the audience, Victor Summa of the Northfield Economic Development Authority (EDA), asked a question that specifically referenced the $7 million dollar shovel. Summa said, based on past EDA meetings, he had been expecting Dunbar and Shopek’s presentation to show more options about how to proceed following the proposed farmland annexation. The EDA chose Dunbar and Shopek to assemble the presentation about two months ago.
“I would like to have you respond to the option-agreement process that I thought we were going down,” Summa said. “I didn’t hear you mention one thing except you showed us a picture over there,” he continued, pointing to the spade.
Summa addressed his question to Dunbar, but Brian O’Connell, Northfield Community Development director, responded.
“Remember Victor, as a board, we discussed the enormity of securing an option on some or all of the pieces of property,” O’Connell replied. “And, the board itself quite clearly said, ‘Maybe we ought to take a little bit more cautious and step-by-step approach, as opposed to charging ahead and securing an option on a property until we really understood what we were getting ourselves into.’”
Even with Dunbar and Shopek’s preliminary studies, the city officials leading the meeting emphasized the plethora of unknowns.
“As you can tell, there are a lot of answers we ourselves still need to figure out,” O’Connell said at the beginning of the question and answer period.
Richard Estenson, spokesman for the Economic Development Authority, told the audience he welcomed ideas about what the proposed business park should be like. One resident said he would like to see environmentally friendly businesses and buildings. Dunbar responded that being “green” is now practically a standard in most industries, but the level to which a business is conscious of the health of the environment usually varies.
Following the presentation, the audience sipped soft drinks and munched cookies from Quality Bakery while discussing the meeting. Many seemed to appreciate the information session as an appropriate way to tell the public about the project. A member of the city’s development department filmed the meeting, but a digital copy of the information presented at the session still appears to be unavailable on the Web. A request for the information sent on Friday afternoon to O’Connell’s office and Shopek’s office had not been answered as of Saturday. O’Connell did not mention the meeting in his submission to this week’s city administrator’s memo released on Friday.
I apologize for the misspelling of Richard Estenson’s name when I first posted this article.