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Qdoba Mexican Grill, Dollar Tree may open in Alexandria

A Qdoba Mexican Grill restaurant and a Dollar Tree store may open soon near Viking Plaza in Alexandria.

On a split 3-2 vote, the Alexandria City Council approved an economic development tax abatement request from Viking Plaza Associates for the development, located where the old Champion Auto building sits, on the west side of the mall property, between Allure Tan and the Verizon building.

Scott Snitker, representing Viking Plaza Associates, said that the funding hasn't been finalized yet but the developers plan to use the tax break to replace the old building with a new 11,000-square-foot retail center that will house both Qdoba and Dollar Tree.

The building will be realigned with the frontage road and will include new sewer and storm sewer connections. The money saved from the abatement, the city's portion of the tax bill, will offset some of the construction costs.

The project is expected to increase the market value of the property to $1.2 million. It will receive a tax abatement of about $6,779 per year over 10 years. The city will receive $500 a year for administrative fees.

In the abatement application, the developers said the project will replace a substandard building and attract more businesses to the land near the site.

Council members Todd Jensen and Virgil Batesole voted against the abatement. "I'm having a hard time throwing $63,000 in tax revenues out the window," said Jensen, adding that in his view, the developers would go ahead with the project whether they received the abatement or not.

Council member Roger Thalman responded by saying that the city will get the same tax revenue from the property as it's getting today with the added benefits of replacing aging infrastructure and an "eye-sore" of a building. He said that after 10 years, the city will receive more taxes from the property.

During a public hearing on the request, Cathy Isaacson, who co-owns the Dollar District store along with her husband, opposed the abatement. She said that unlike her locally owned business, Dollar Tree is corporately owned and allowing the abatement wouldn't be a fair and proper use of city funds.

Snitker said that the mall owners don't want to harm local businesses and said that many of the stores in the mall are locally owned. He said that competition can breed good results.

The project is expected to create six to eight full-time jobs, along with 42 to 44 part-time positions, according to the abatement application.

Qdoba is a fast-casual restaurant chain that offers a variety of Mexican-style cuisine. Customers order at the counter and the food is delivered to their table. There are more than 600 Qdoba locations throughout the U.S.

Dollar Tree stores specialize in discount retail merchandise, selling most items for $1. There are more than 4,900 Dollar Tree stores in the U.S. and Canada.

This isn’t the first time the council has approved tax abatement requests, according to Jason Murray, director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission. Four other projects have received it, including Tastefully Simple’s new warehouse, the Alexandria Veterinary Clinic’s new building, Blue Ox’s mental health services facility and Hoven and Anderson’s new eye clinic.

Murray noted that tax abatement is different than tax increment financing (TIF) because it's not as legally cumbersome and affects only the city's portion of the taxes.  He added that the tax incentives are a privelege, not a right, and that it's important for the city to be consistent in its TIF and abatement policy.

In other action, the council:

--Called for a public hearing to discuss possible amendments to the city’s liquor licensing ordinances relating to clubs, including the Eagles, Elks and VFW. The city’s legislative committee has been looking into questions that have been raised about clubs selling alcohol to the general public even though they are operating with less-expensive club liquor licenses. The hearing is set for Monday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. Issues to be addressed include the ratio of food/liquor sales; the liquor license fee structure; and the definition of a restaurant. Batesole voted against scheduling the hearing. He said he wanted to have a work session about the issue first to find out what club owners said in the committee meetings. Council member Owen Miller said that Batesole attended some of those meetings.

--Issued a special use permit for the Memorial Day parade organized by the VFW Post 936 and American Legion Post 87. This was the first time the special use permit was requested for a parade and Grant Haugen, representing the veteran groups, told the council that there were a lot of cumbersome steps to go through and additional insurance costs to meet the permit requirements. The council adgreed to eliminate the requirement of having each organization in the parade provide liability insurace. The parade will be covered under the city's liability coverage. After the council voted, Mayor Sara Carlson told the large group of veterans attending the meeting to stand up and they were applauded for their service. The parade will take place on Second Avenue, with staging on Kenwood Drive on Monday, May 26 from 9 to 11 a.m. The parade will start at 10 a.m.

--Was informed that the two city-owned liquor stores, Downtown Liquor and Plaza Liquor, will upgrade its point-of-sale computer system. Liquor Operations Manager Andy Mellgren said the new system, estimated to cost $32,000, will provide better inventory control, reduce the chances of error, offer added security, provide faster transaction times and allow for information about wine or beer clubs to be printed on customer receipts. The money will come out of the liquor fund, which has cash available. It won’t impact the city’s general fund, according to City Administrator Marty Schultz.

--Tabled a decision whether to modify the city parking lot on Seventh Avenue. A business owner requested a walkway to be constructed through the median island, eliminating one parking stall. The cost is estimated at $1,249. Jensen and Batesole said the lot design from Widseth Smith and Nolting (WSN) was "flawed" to not include the walkway from the beginning. Jensen said that residents living in the apartments were forced to walk over snowbanks and were greatly inconvenienced by the lack of a walkway. Thalman disagreed that the design was flawed and said that adding a cut-through was taking away a parking space that local businesses want. City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven, who works for WSN, said that the furthest anyone had to walk was to go around six vehicles. Jensen and Batesole made a motion to assess the cost to WSN but they both withdrew it a few minutes later after Schultz said assessments couldn't be taken against WSN and City Attorney Tom Jacobson said assessing someone for a project that hadn't been approved didn't follow the proper procedure. Miller made a motion to table the issue and it was approved 3-2, wth Jenson and Batesole opposed.

--Was informed that the city has obtained a judgement that will allow it to complete the demolition work at Blue Smoke BBQ on Third Avenue East that was gutted by a fire last summer. After a legal showdown with the city, the owners finally took down the building a few weeks ago but the foundation still remains. Jacobson said the city will now hire a contractor to finish the job and bill the owners for the costs incurred, including legal expenses.

--Approved plans for a first-ever “Homeless to Housed” fundraiser organized by the Coffee Pot Café. It will take place Saturday, September 20 from 2 to 7 p.m. and feature a silent auction, live entertainment, a bouncy house for kids, a dunk tank and other family activities. All of the proceeds will go to the Salvation Army, local United Way and the West Central Minnesota Community Action Inc. to help with housing needs for the homeless.

--Approved a request to close Seventh Avenue between Elm and Douglas Street for two Red Willow Arts Coalition concerts on the Courthouse lawn on July 24 and July 31, from 5 to 9 p.m., pending approval from the police department. The council also approved the coalition’s Hangar Dance on Friday, June 6 at the Alexandria Airport’s new hangar building from 7 to 11 p.m., pending approval from the police department.

--Approved plans for the Ole Oppe Fest that will take place Memorial Day weekend, May 23-25, at Big Ole Park and Second Avenue. About 2,000 people are expected to attend. It will include a carnival, beer garden, chicken wing tasting party, fish fry, street dances, two bands, a baseball tournament at Knute Nelson Field, sidewalk sale, Corvette car show, Breakfast with Big Ole and more.

--Approved the Alexandria Blue Anchors baseball schedule this summer, which includes 36 home games at Knute Nelson Field. A portion of Elm Street, from Fourth to Fifth Avenue will be closed two hours before and during the games.

--Issued the following licenses – charitable gambling to Runestone Museum Foundation for an August 6 event; fireworks permit to Target and Walmart; peddler’s license to Fabian Seafood Company; and heating license to S & S Handyman Services of Carlos.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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