Task force to look at future of old Ramsey city hall

The Ramsey City Council wants to set up a task force to evaluate whether the former municipal center property would be best suited for a data center or more single-family homes.

The council July 9 had a preliminary discussion on how this process could work, but did not specify when this group would meet or how many people would serve as members, except to state it wants surrounding neighborhood representatives.

“We have nothing but time on this because we don’t have a buyer,” said Councilmember Randy Backous, who served as acting mayor at the July 9 meeting because Mayor Sarah Strommen had been in a car accident earlier that day.

The 21.24-acre site at 15153 Nowthen Blvd. now holds Fire Station No. 2 and some storage. The municipal center left this site in 2006 when the new one opened and the city has been looking to sell the property ever since and build a new Fire Station No. 2 on an adjacent property, according to Patrick Brama, assistant to the city administrator.

One potential option Connexus Energy brought forward was to sell the property to a data center developer. The city has got a lot of backlash from the neighbors about this idea, but the concept is not completely dead.

This task force, which Brama said could include five or more neighbors, would be tasked with learning the facts of data centers. While it would only be able to make a recommendation and not have the final say, the council feels this will be a good opportunity to involve the neighborhood in the process.

“They all have concerns (about a data center) and rightfully so,” Backous said. “I’d have the same concerns if I was living there, but we have never addressed those concerns with facts.”

Councilmember Chris Riley wants to make sure the task force’s discussion is not solely focused on data centers because he feels this would become the only considered option. The neighbors prefer the 47 single-family homes option the city brought up.

Councilmember Mark Kuzma said he wants all Ramsey residents to understand the tax benefits of a data center versus residential development, for example.

Backous wonders whether technology has improved to make data centers quieter.

Brama provided estimates at the last council meeting that showed the building and land market value of a data center project could be $23 million or $24 million, while the residential market value would be in the neighborhood of $7.6 million.

Neighbors are concerned about noise, traffic and having to look at massive buildings. Brama had said the 21.24-acre property could hold a maximum of 195,000 square feet in either one or two buildings. In Elk River, Target has a 161,300 square-foot data center and UnitedHealth Group’s facility is 185,000 square feet.

City staff recommended hiring a consultant, but the council did not want to pay a third party to facilitate these meetings and asked the work be done by city of Ramsey employees.

Tim Gladhill, development services manager, told the council that the consultant would have helped with technical analysis. Although city staff can do this, it will slow down the process or will shift their focus away from other tasks because they already have a heavy workload.

City Administrator Kurt Ulrich said a consultant may have only amounted to a $5,000 cost out of a research process that may cost $15,000 to $20,000.

“We have good support to move forward on this property and develop this property and get it back to the tax rolls and we’d like to expedite that as much as we can,” Ulrich told the council.

Councilmember Jason Tossey said he has been hearing about all the tax benefits Ramsey would get from the COR developing and that has been slow to happen. He was therefore hesitant to spend any money on a consultant to look into the possibility of a data center when a buyer has not even come forward.

Tossey believes more single-family homes is the safest bet, he said.

Kuzma wondered if Connexus Energy could be asked to pay for the consultant, but Backous said this would give the appearance that the city would only consider a data center and he does not want to get to the point where the city is telling residents that this is good for them.

However, if the council decides to not build a data center, he wants to be able to explain the downside to Ramsey residents in other areas of the community.

“We need to stay neutral, get the facts, involve the neighborhood and then make an informed decision, an unbiased decision,” Backous said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]