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Unused fund will jolt economic development

New traffic lights were recently turned on at the intersection of Pioneer Road and 34th Avenue in southeast Alexandria near the new high school. At its meeting Monday night, the city council talked about a new indicator on the lights – a flashing yellow. It appears after the green arrow and reminds drivers who are turning left to yield to any oncoming traffic. (Al Edenloff/Echo Press)

A fund that has been unused for five years will boost economic development in Alexandria.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council began the process of transferring $514,978 from the Airport Industrial Park Fund to the Lakes Area Economic Development Authority (LAEDA).

The money will be used to purchase land for industrial park development, something the city has needed for years, according to a task force study in 2007 and a recently completed strategic plan for economic development.

The history of the fund dates back to 1994 when the city bought 60 acres of land from the Alexandria-Douglas County Developers, the first economic development organization in the community. Formed in 1954, the developers raised private funds through the sale of stock and purchased land near the airport to promote industrial and manufacturing growth.

The city acquired the 60 acres at a reduced price and agreed to apply for grants to provide infrastructure to the area. Over time, the lots were sold and the proceeds and assessments were put into the Airport Industrial Park Fund.

In 2001, the Alexandria-Douglas County Developers disbanded and transferred their assets over to the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission (AAEDC). The assets were used to set up a revolving loan fund to support industrial development.

After the developers disbanded, the city continued to place proceeds from lot sales into the Airport Industrial Park Fund, which is considered a “committed” or capital outlay part of the city’s general fund balance. The last lot was sold in 2008 so no money has been placed in the fund in the past five years.

City Administrator Marty Schultz told the council Monday that using the funds to purchase industrial park land seems to be “in the spirit of the activities of the Alexandria-Douglas County Developers.”

Council members said that having more land to attract new industries would help the city pay for streets and other expenses.

Many of the people working at the businesses in the current industrial park don’t live in Alexandria. Jason Murray, AAEDC director, said that a study showed that only about 21 percent of the industrial park workforce live in Alexandria, about 40 percent live somewhere else in Douglas County and the rest live in other regions.

Murray added that Alexandria is one of the few cities in the state to have more jobs than people. He estimated there are about 17,000 jobs in the city.

The council approved a resolution to remove the Airport Industrial Park Fund from its list of committed fund balances and authorized staff and the city attorney to work out the terms of an agreement with LAEDA. This would allow LAEDA to purchase property zoned for light or heavy industrial use or for industrial-business within the city limits. No specific location was given.

No money could be used for administrative purposes.

WILL YOUR STREET GET AN OVERLAY NEXT YEAR? The council approved a $65,526 engineering agreement with Wideseth Smith Nolting for street overlay projects next year.

The projects, which have a combined cost estimate of nearly $430,000, are set to take place on the following streets: Bridgeport Lane, from Voyager Drive to Tabbert Road; Edgewater Drive, from Agnes Boulevard to Van Dyke Road; Van Dyke Road, from Agnes Boulevard to the north end; Karnis Drive, from Voyager Drive to the south end; Glenn Road, from Steger Road to North Nokomis; Parkside Road, from North Nokomis to L’Homme Dieu Drive; L’Homme Dieu Drive, from North Nokomis to East Golf Course Road.

State funds would pay for about $220,000 of the project and the city will have to come up with the rest of the funds. It will likely call for bids on the project and do as many of the street projects as funding allows, said City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven.

In related action, the council approved an $85,454 engineering agreement with Widseth Smith Nolting for a street reclamation project in the Victoria Heights area next year. Reclaim projects mill the entire surface of asphalt and resurface streets.

The streets include Viking, Nissen, Scandia, Vineland, High and Runestone Drive.

The engineering costs were based on a total project cost of $560,200. The state will pick up about half of the cost and the city will have to find other funding sources for the rest.


In other action, the council:

•Proclaimed November 2013 as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Kathy McGinn of Alexandria, who lost her husband, Mike, to the disease, addressed the council to boost awareness of the cancer. An estimated 45,220 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the U.S. this year and 38,460 are expected to die from the disease. It is one of the deadliest cancers, with a five-year survival rate of 6 percent. Nearly 75 percent of its victims die within the first year of diagnosis. The proclamation notes that the good health and well-being of Alexandria residents are enhanced as a direct result of increased awareness about pancreatic cancer and the research into early detection, causes and effective treatments.

•Was informed that the new traffic lights on Pioneer Road and 34th Avenue near the new high school are now operational. Drivers should be aware of a new type of signal — a flashing yellow light, which appears after a green arrow light. This means drivers may proceed with their left turn but must yield to oncoming traffic. The flashing yellow signal is being used at other intersections in the state but this is the first one in the Douglas County area.

•Approved plans for the Runestone Museum’s “Christmas in the Fort” celebration on Friday, November 29. About 700 people are expected to attend the event, which is the city’s official kick-off to the holiday season. It includes caroling, children choirs, a lighting ceremony, a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, carriage rides, reindeer, warm apple cider and other Christmas-themed activities. Portions of 2nd Avenue and North Broadway will be blocked off for the event.

•Talked about the Blue Smoke BBQ building, which was gutted by fire earlier this summer. Council member Virgil Batesole said he’s received calls about the “unsightly” look of the property and asked if the city has any ordinances in place to tear the building down. Schultz said there is a process for deeming a building as hazardous and getting it removed. He said he’d look into it some more and report back to the council. The city has been reimbursed 100 percent for the $50,000 revolving loan fund it issued to the business for building Blue Smoke BBQ.

•Considered a request from the Alexandria Clinic to acquire a portion of excess right-of-way from the east side of Aga Drive to add 45 parking spaces to its parking lot. “The clinic is bursting at the seams,” noted City Planner Mike Weber. The excess is there because it once served as right-of-way for Highway 29 before it was rerouted. The council referred the request to the highway committee and staff for review and recommendation.

•Agreed to pave the alley behind Traveler’s Inn to 6th Avenue by Sixth Avenue Wine and Ale. It will be done in conjunction with the parking lot reconstruction work that is now under way. It’s estimated to cost $18,500.

•Accepted an annexation petition from Jay Paulson for his 0.16-acre parcel of land on Wintergreen Lane, a half block north of Voyager Drive. The petition will be sent to the state and the LaGrand Township Board. The board has 90 days to object.

•Authorized Schultz to get quotes for a strategic planning process that could begin in January.

•Agreed to look into the possibility of forming a short-term task force to promote the economic vitality of downtown Alexandria during and after next year’s Broadway reconstruction project. Council member Todd Jensen was appointed to the task force.

•Was informed that Alexandria will host the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities Conference on November 13-15. Batesole noted that having the conference in Alexandria is a big deal that will bring many people into town. He said it provides an opportunity to market the city to others.

•Issued a heating license to Greeley Plumbing and Heating of Hoffman.

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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