Suburban cities in the north metro area sharing a renewed enthusiasm for development as the economy shows signs of rebounding.
More stability in property values, increases in housing starts and an uptick in commercial development were all highlights shared by local city leaders at last Tuesday’s State of the Cities luncheon hosted by the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce at Bunker Hills Golf Club in Coon Rapids.
Anoka City Manager Tim Cruikshank said there are a lot of exciting things happening in the region and local cities “are making some noise in the north and northwest metro.”
The Chamber represents businesses in the communities of Andover, Anoka, Champlin, Coon Rapids, Dayton, Nowthen, Oak Grove, Ramsey, and St. Francis.
Ramsey City Administrator Kurt Ulrich said in 2013 development in Ramsey continued to gain momentum.
“It really was a comeback year for us, coming off the success of 2012,” Ulrich said.
Those successes include the opening of the new 50 unit luxury apartment complex The Residence as well as the expansion and relocation of a number of private businesses.
Ulrich said Ramsey is seeing more growth and property values are holding steady.
In the coming year Ramsey is focused on business redevelopment at the corner of Highway 47 and 167th Avenue, the redevelopment of the old municipal center site, as well as planning for future business park expansion.
2014 will also see the addition of McDonald’s Restaurant to The Cor.
Andover Mayor Mike Gamache agreed that communities in the area are seeing significant development improvements.
“A lot of cities are starting to see redevelopment and building coming in,” Gamache said.
Andover has seen a new senior housing development, commercial expansion and relocation to the community, including the addition of a new WalMart in the Andover Station – an area that was once a junkyard, Gamache said.
There were 98 new homes built in Andover last year.
“We’re actually in need of land to build new homes,” Gamache said.
The city is also set to open a new 40-acre park this fall that will offer a variety of athletic playing fields.
The city of Dayton has approved more than 500 preliminary plats for lots, and there were 40 new homes started in 2013 – the largest number in six years according to Dayton Mayor Tim McNeil.
“Our big goal is to prepare for development,” McNeil said. “We’re expecting at least 60 new homes in 2014.”
New home development is also a highlight in Anoka.
Development started this year on Rum River Shores, a 44 single family home neighborhood with homes ranging from $400,000 to $800,000.
“The council has been driven and determined to see higher-end single family homes built in our community,” Cruikshank said.
Anoka is in talks with the same team – Landmark Development, Hanson Homes and Jonathan Builders – to carry on that new housing development to an additional ? acres to the north.
The city has also seen the relocation of the RiverWay Clinic, as well as the construction of a new Castle Field ballpark, the opening of senior housing community The Homestead at Anoka and the clean up and redevelopment at the Main and Ferry streets corner, now the home of Caribou Coffee and U.S. Bank.
“That has been a painful corner for us for a number of years and it has ended up as best as we could have hoped for,” Cruikshank said.
In the industrial park, RMS Surgical and Juno Inc. joined forces for the purchase of a $4 million vacant building along with a $10 million renovation that will add 75 jobs to the community.
In Champlin, the city is seeing the highest commercial occupancy rate along Highway 169 in 10 years, according to Mayor ArMand Nelson.
He recognized how tough things have been on local businesses for the past several years.
“I congratulate all of you for weathering the storm,” Nelson told Chamber members.
He said there are strong signs of upward market trends, and you can see it in the successful expansion of local businesses like Trailhead Cycling and Hudy’s Cafe, or the long lines at Clive’s Roadhouse on a Friday night.
Champlin also has residential projects in the works that include new single family, detached townhome and workforce housing.
Nelson said he is especially excited about a project to add solar power capability to a number of city buildings, through a partnership with Champlin-based Powerfully Green and Newport Partners. Nelson said the $1.2 million green energy project will not cost the city any money, but will save $750,000 to $1 million in energy costs over the life of the solar panels.
During the crunch, many cities have increased efficiencies and turned to shared services in order to save money.
“I’m a big advocate of shared services,” said St. Francis Mayor Jerry Tveit.
St. Francis city is currently working with its neighboring communities on a joint fire study to look at how they can, “share and use each other to save money and improve services,” Tveit said.
After coping with a rash of vandalism in city parks, St. Francis last year also put in an anonymous tip line. Tveit said the city chose the tip line over the installation of surveillance cameras, and so far it has been working.
“Vandalism has dropped off a lot,” he said.
Coon Rapids Mayor Tim Howe made what he said would be his final State of the Cities address. Howe is not planning to seek re-election.
Coon Rapids is embarking on an ambitious plan to update its parks after a $17.4 million park bond referendum was approved by voters in November.
Howe said the city’s parks are falling apart and, “at budget times parks have been cut.”
Spending $17.4 million over the next 20 years will allow Coon Rapids to connect the missing pieces and upgrade its park system.
“This is a long-term investment in our city and our voters decided we needed to do it,” Howe said.
The city also just wrapped up the 50th anniversary celebration of Snowflake Days.
With little room left for new housing development, Coon Rapids is focused on rejuvenating its older housing stock.
It recently received national honors from the Harvard Kennedy School for Government for its Home for Generations project where the city took distressed homes, remodeled and then showcased them, Howe said. The city has now moved on to its Home for Generations II, which provides funding for residents who want to fix up aging homes in the city. This can come in the way of assistance for architectural drawings as well as permit and fee reductions.
“There has been tremendous response to that,” Howe said.
Nowthen Mayor Bill Schultz called his city “the last of the little guys.” Home to the Nowthen Historical Power Association and Nowthen Threshing Show, more than 30 percent of the city’s land is agricultural, including the last two dairy farms in Anoka County.
Schulz said Nowthen has plenty of room available for development and the city is working on a business subsidy policy.
Mandy Moran Froemming is at email@example.com