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Alexandria gets 'beautiful piece of property' for free

In the not too distant future, people may be able to enjoy outdoor walking paths, pick a scenic picnic spot, learn about the environment or just take in the outdoor views at a new Alexandria park.

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All because of a donation from Gary and Cindy Zacher of Alexandria.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the Alexandria City Council unanimously accepted a donation of 17.75 acres of land from the Zachers as a charitable contribution. The land is appraised at slightly more than $1 million.

Located along the north side of 50th Avenue, the land adjoins property the Zachers donated in 2009 that’s restricted for the types of passive outdoor recreational activities mentioned at the top of this story. The newest donation doesn’t have those restrictions. It contains higher ground that could be used as a future parking area to allow access to the 2009 property, according to City Administrator Marty Schultz. The city’s park board recommended accepting the donation.

Council members thanked the Zachers for their "fantastic" donation, calling the land a beautiful piece of property that the city is fortunate to receive.

Council member Roger Thalman asked if the new land is part of the city's long-range planning. Bill Thoennes, park director, said it's on a "less-than-five-year plan to get it done."

After the vote, Mayor Sara Carlson asked the Zachers to talk about their donation. Gary Zacher said that when 50th Avenue is rebuilt, the city could put in a parking lot out there so people could have convenient access to the land. He suggested putting in a wide trail walkways that could include areas that are set aside in remembrance of others. "We felt this would be a very nice addition to the city," he said. "It's a beautiful piece of property with a lot of wildlife."

The council received another good piece of news at Tuesday's meeting: Tourism is strong in Alexandria, based on an annual report from Sara Stadtherr, director of Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality (AHH), which administers the 3 percent lodging tax that's tacked on to the bills of those staying at motels, hotels and resorts in the area.

AHH closed 2012 with a 6 percent increase in lodging tax proceeds over 2011, which saw a growth of 9 percent from 2010. Stadtherr told the council that AHH is on track to close 2013 with a growth of more than 10 percent.

The tax is expected to bring in $265,375 this year, thanks to record-breaking totals for six of the eight months of collection so far. Stadtherr added that's on top of AHH's 2012's big year that set records for nine out of the 12 months.

The proceeds are used for a variety of advertising and marketing strategies designed to draw more visitors into the area all year round. AHH's budget for 2014 includes $95,000 for advertising, $70,000 for funding requests for local events, $69,262 for operating expenses, $23,200 for branding and marketing, and $7,900 for tradeshows and sponsorships.

AHH partners with Explore Minnesota Tourism, the Minnesota Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, Midwest Society of Association Executives, Minnesota Lodging Association, Minnesota Heartland Marketing Committee and the Chamber of Commerces in Alexandria, Glendwood and Fargo-Moorhead.

Council members approved the AHH budget and thanked Stadtherr for her work, noting that she also represents Alexandria well in statewide tourism issues.

In other action, the council:

--Heard concerns from Judy Meyer, owner of Ben Franklin in dowtown Alexandria. She said that many business owners are worried about losing customers when the Broadway reconstruction project gets under way next summer. There are also concerns about the proposed bike path, future maintenance, loitering and littering, narrower streets, parking, the pedestrian bump-outs, and not recycling pavers and street lights that will be removed, Meyer said. See Wednesday's Echo Press for a follow-up story. 

--Agreed to transfer $514,978 in the city’s Airport Industrial Fund to the Lakes Area Economic Development Authority. The council also approved the agreement between the city and LAEDA that states the funds can be used only to purchase industrial zoned real estate within the city limits. None of the money can be used for administrative purposes.

--Gave preliminary approval of liquor license regulations for two new license categories – brewer taprooms and off-sale malt liquor, often referred to as micro or craft beers. The city is proposing a fee of $375 for each license, which matches the current wine license and on-sale beer license fees. A taproom may only serve malt liquor produced by the brewery on the brewery premises, which must be on the same street as the taproom. A taproom may serve food but isn’t required to do so. To obtain an off-sale malt liquor license, the applicant must produce and package the malt liquor on the licensed premises. Sales may only occur when the municipal liquor stores are open. The malt liquor must be removed from the premises before closing time of the municipal liquor stores. The malt liquor must be packaged in special containers commonly called “growlers.” In related action, the council also amended its beer and liquor licensing ordinances. Surety bond requirements are being deleted; a specific public hearing date for renewing on-sale liquor licenses in December was removed to allow more flexible scheduling; seasonal on-sale liquor licenses for up to eight months can be obtained at a cost of $3,000; and businesses that have on-sale licenses to sell both wine and beer that contains 3.2 percent or less alcohol may now serve strong beer without getting an additional license. Final action on the ordinances is expected to take place December 9.

--Gave preliminary approval of various city fees for 2014. Changes include: a new $25 fence permit fee; annual on-sale beer-license fees were increased from $265 to $375, which matches the existing fee for wine licenses; temporary on-sale liquor licenses were increased from $75 to $100; a new late fee will triple the annual fee for rental registrations that are received after January 1; fixed fees were established for reviewing building plans for detached garages ($50) and decks ($25); and the park shelter fee was increased from $15 to $20.

--Approved a $58,334 engineering agreement with Widseth Smith and Nolting for reconstructing South L’Homme Dieu Drive (old County Road 70). The cost is based on a total project cost of $382,417. Douglas County, which used to own the road, will cover $170,000 of the cost. The rest will be paid through state aid funds. The proposed pavement section of 4,464 feet will consist of two 11-foot driving lanes with three feet of paved shoulders. It will be constructed during the phase four, part two watermain project.

--Approved an easement agreement with Jay and Jeanne Patterson involving city playground property and a mowed area at Foslien Park that the city recently discovered is encroaching into adjacent private property. The property is now being sold and a house may be built there. The agreement protects the buyers from liability and will allow them to close on the property. If the equipment needs to replaced in the future, it will be moved elsewhere.

--Agreed to defer imposing $6,500 in special assessments for the phase four, part one orderly annexation waterline improvements for Stanley and Donna Olson. They requested the deferment through the city’s senior citizen deferral program.

--Gave final approval to Jay Paulson’s request for the city to annex 0.16 acres of land along Wintergreen Lane in LaGrand Township. He is the sole property owner.

--Approved a subordination loan request from Chad and Lisa Roquette, pending documentation from the lender and approval by city staff. This will allow the Roquettes to refinance the first mortgage on their property, located in The Trails subdivision, and obtain a lower interest rate and monthly overhead.

--Approved charitable gambling licenses to St. Mary’s School to sell raffles for a February 28 event, Alexandria Figure Skating Club to sell raffles for an April 6 event, Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association to sell raffles for a March 15 event, and ABATE Minnesota to conduct a raffle at the Holiday Inn on April 25.

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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