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Manufacturer to expand, new restaurant to open in Alexandria

A couple of signs that the local economy is bouncing back popped up at Monday night's Alexandria City Council meeting. FORCE America, Inc., a leading supplier of systems and components for highway trucks and other mobile markets, unveiled plans f...

A couple of signs that the local economy is bouncing back popped up at Monday night's Alexandria City Council meeting.

FORCE America, Inc., a leading supplier of systems and components for highway trucks and other mobile markets, unveiled plans for a $3 million expansion in the city's industrial park.

And a new restaurant, Blue Smoke BBQ, plans to open this summer at 403 3rd Avenue East.

FORCE America is applying for tax increment financing (TIF) to help build a 45,000-square-foot facility on Iowa Street near VariTech Industries, one of its subsidiaries. The project would consist of 40,000 square foot of manufacturing space along with 5,000 square feet of office.

The company would retain 26 employees and pledged to create 14 new positions with the expansion, according to Jason Murray, director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission.

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VariTech designs and manufactures anti-icing and de-icing equipment and storage units. The expanded facility would work with hydraulics.

FORCE America has been a leading supplier of motion and control systems for 60 years. It provides controls and harnesses, valves and manifolds, hoses and fittings, power transmissions, data logging systems and other products for a wide range of markets, including agriculture, construction, green energy, waste haulers, wreckers and highway work trucks.

The council didn't take action on the TIF request other than to schedule a public hearing. It will take place during the council's May 28 meeting at 7:15 p.m.

With TIF, property taxes are frozen at the current level for a specified period of time, typically 13 years, and the developer uses the money to pay for a development project that wouldn't have been completed without the assistance. The city also retains 20 percent of the TIF to cover administrative expenses.

NEW RESTAURANT

David and Steve Galbraith of Alexandria, owners of Blue Smoke BBQ, requested $50,000 from the city's revolving loan fund (RLF) to remodel the building that once housed Taco Villa, Giovanni's Pizza and more recently, an organic food store.

The total cost of the project is $125,000.

The council approved the request on a 3-2 vote. Roger Thalman and Virgil Batesole both opposed it. They were concerned that the city could lose out on the money if the restaurant went under like other businesses that opened at that location. They also questioned whether there was adequate parking at the site, especially if spots had to be reserved for take-out.

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City Planner Mike Weber said that the RLF is intended to help businesses with more risky loans that they may not have been able to get through traditional lenders. He said that out of the 120 loans and $4.5 million worth of projects funded through the RLF, only one business defaulted.

Blue Smoke BBQ will be an eat-in, carry-out restaurant offering a variety of barbecued fare, as well as domestic and imported beer. The owners also plan to offer outdoor patio dining.

The restaurant is expected to employ 20 people.

David Galbraith operates Viking Speedway Concessions at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Steve Galbraith has decades of experience in financial data, management and customer relations.

The loan will be paid back over five years at a 6 percent interest rate.

The city has more than $600,000 in the RLF.

IN OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

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--Approved plans for the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce's Ribfest on Memorial Day weekend, May 24-27. The Chamber board voted to cancel the event late last year because of financial and staffing concerns. Director Coni McKay noted that the Chamber is operating with its smallest staff in the 16 years she's been there. When a local manufacturing company found out the Ribfest was in jeopardy, it stepped forward and offered to pay an independent contractor to help with the event, McKay said. The Chamber board voted to re-instate the event last month. Ribfest will take place on Saturday, May 25. Large tents will again be set up in case of rain. Other activities for the weekend include a car show, entertainment and a beer garden. The council agreed to close 2nd Avenue from Kenwood Street to Broadway to accommodate the events, which take place on 2nd Avenue and in the Big Ole Central Park area.

--On a 3-2 vote, supported proposed legislation that would allow cities to establish municipal street improvement districts. This would allow cities to collect fees from property owners within a district to fund street maintenance, construction, reconstruction and street upgrades. It could even get money from tax-exempt properties, which haven't paid for street projects in the past. The city's resolution says that existing funding mechanisms from the state are inadequate to keep city streets in good shape. City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven noted that Alexandria has 125 blocks of street that need complete reconstruction at a cost of several millions of dollars. He said the legislation would be a tool the city could use instead of putting off street projects that keep getting more expensive. The legislation is supported by the League of Minnesota Cities. Batesole and Todd Jensen voted against the measure. Batesole said it amounted to another fee. "To me, it's another way for the council to stick it to taxpayers," he said. Thalman said if the legislation passes, it doesn't mean the city would use it. It just gives the city more options. Owen Miller noted that spreading street costs over a larger number of taxpayers can keep costs down.

--Approved plans for a new community event, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, on April 30. Organized by the Lakes Area Professional Women and Someplace Safe, it's designed to create awareness about stopping sexual assault and gender violence. All funds raised will go to Someplace Safe. To get the message across, men will put on women's shoes and walk a mile, starting at 5 p.m. from Big Ole, up to 3rd Avenue, on to Elden's Fresh Foods and then back on 2nd Avenue. After that, there will be free-will donations, snacks, refreshments and two speakers. One in three women are victims of sexual assault, said Jenna Payne with Someplace Safe.

--Heard from a resident, Orrin Johnson, about a perennial problem: bad potholes in the Post Office parking lot. He said someone has to put pressure on those who own the lot. City Administator Jim Taddei said he'd find out who was responsible for maintaining the lot and contact them about fixing the potholes.

--Agreed to proceed with a workforce planning process to create a more efficient workplace and better service to residents. It also passed a motion to see how much it would cost to hire a consultant to help put together a workforce plan that includes compensation programs and job classifications.

--Called for bids for the phase 4 orderly annexation area waterline extension project. The bids will be opened on May 7 and presented to the council for consideration on May 13.

--Agreed to restrict parking on Pioneer Road from 50th Avenue to 34th Avenue, and on 50th Avenue from Highway 29 to Pioneer Road.

--Agreed to re-align the intersection at Golf Course Road and South Le Homme Dieu Drive to a T-intersection with a three-way stop.

--Added the reconstruction of 13th Avenue between Birch Avenue and Lake Crest Drive to the city's 2013 list of local street improvements projects. The estimated cost is $15,261.

--Scheduled a public hearing to discuss a paving project on Boys Avenue from its intersection with Government Point Road and then northwest 700 feet. The hearing will take place April 22 at 7:15 p.m. at City Hall. The cost of the project is estimated at $72,896.

--Scheduled a joint meeting with Alexandria Light and Power's Board of Public Works for May 6 at 5 p.m. at a location to be determined.

--Scheduled a work session for Monday, April 22 at 5 p.m. prior to the regular council meeting to review the proposed Broadway reconstruction project in 2014.

--Asked city staff to look into the possibility of offering low-interest loans for downtown businesses make exterior improvements to their buildings when Broadway is reconstructed in 2014. Jensen, who made the motion, said that the city's revolving loan fund could be used.

--Was informed that City Hall has changed to its summer hours schedule and is now open from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through September.

--Proclaimed May as Building Safety Month. The effort is designed to remind the public about the critical role building code officials play to assure safe, efficient and livable buildings.

Related Topics: ALEXANDRIA CITY COUNCIL
Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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