Robinson settles in with HRA

by Mandy Moran Froemming
Union Editor

Four months into the job as the executive director for Anoka’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Jim Robinson is seeing exciting challenges along with opportunity in his new role.

Jim Robinson

Robinson was hired this fall to replace Jennifer Bergman, who left in June to take a position as the executive director of Brainerd’s HRA.

He comes with several decades of experience in community development and planning, most recently working for 22 years as the community development director for the city of White Bear Lake.

When the position opened up in Anoka, Robinson saw an opportunity to focus on an area he is most interested in – housing development and redevelopment.

“I have always been interested in the housing part of community development,” said Robinson, whose has particular expertise in redevelopment.

In the first few months, Robinson said he has been impressed by the teamwork among the city’s management as well as Anoka HRA’s seasoned and dedicated board of directors.

In White Bear Lake, Robinson was involved with the redevelopment of the Highway 61 corridor of the city, along with the establishment of two business parks where he aggressively worked to create jobs and increase the city’s tax base. He has also worked on senior housing projects and downtown redevelopments.

“I have a lot of experience with public/private partnerships that foster and encourage a city’s development priorities,” said Robinson.

This experience will be well appreciated in Anoka. Robinson came on board just as the Anoka HRA was negotiating to purchase the RiverWay Clinic, a building block of a larger plan for HealthPartners to build and relocate to a new 10,000 square-foot clinic just off Highway 10 on the current Castle Field site.

While getting comfortable in his new role, Robinson said he working on understanding the current housing stock in the city, along with the condition of that inventory as well as the demographics in Anoka.

The HRA is using the challenged housing market as a chance to make inroads to improve many of the city’s neighborhoods through its scattered site replacement program.

For many years the HRA has been buying vacant and foreclosed homes, demolishing them and then offering the lots up for sale for new construction.

Robinson said this continues to be a large part of his focus and the HRA will look at acquiring two or three more properties in 2012.

Construction is slated to begin soon on two new spec homes where lots were made available through this program. This brings the HRA’s inventory down to three available lots.

The HRA has also retooled its loan and grant programs, which offer financial assistance and incentives for rehabilitation and energy improvements to single-family homes.

“That is something we are going to be marketing heavily in 2012,” said Robinson.

The board of directors has also been busy with an ambitious project to develop a master plan for the “Greens of Anoka,” a plan with short, mid and long range goals for a golf course community near Greenhaven that includes neighborhood redevelopment as well as new housing.

“With the (new) HealthPartners clinic, we’re off to a good start,” said Robinson.

The plan is expected to be presented to the Anoka City Council Jan. 17.

Robinson said the South Ferry Street gateway into the city is also on the HRA’s radar. It recently purchased 1900 South Ferry Street, scheduled for demolition, along with a couple of other properties in the area that are prime for redevelopment.

“We’re just getting started and will be meeting with the local businesses to see what their long-term plans are,” said Robinson. “Hopefully we will have a plan in place by May.”

Robinson, 56, who grew up moving around the midwest, has a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Minnesota.

He is a longtime resident of Anoka County, living in Fridley for the past 30 years, and has a 30-year-old son who is a playwright on the East Coast. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, biking, golf and water sports.

Prior to his tenure in White Bear Lake, Robinson was the city of Fridley’s planning coordinator for eight years.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]