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Willmar, Minn., commercial, residential projects total $11 million in 2012

Mike Just of Cal-Tex Electric of Prior Lake digs a trench Monday for electrical lines at the site of the new Goodwill building on First Street South and 19th Avenue in Willmar. The project is one of numerous multimillion-dollar building or renovation projects to break ground so far this year in Willmar. Tribune photos by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- City officials are pleased by the level of commercial and industrial development in Willmar in 2012, even though economic times for the business sector are uncertain.

The total value of projects so far this year, including the $2.2 million addition at Assembly of God Church in late 2011, is nearly $11 million.

"Looking to the future, and knowing what we have presented to us as pending projects, it is anticipated that there is another $24 million in projects on the horizon for 2013,'' said Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services for the city.

"In recognition of the uncertainty and difficulty of current times for the business sector, we are pleased by the level of commercial/industrial development we are seeing,'' said Peterson.

"It far exceeds the totals we witnessed in 2011. It is our belief that the private sector is doing well, and as staff we will continue to work to remove barriers to economic development and to promote and support sound growth for the city of Willmar,'' Peterson said.

He said projects are spread around town in the various commercial areas, with the exception of U.S. Highway 12 East where there is not significant development currently. Economic activity is strongest along U.S. Highway 12 West and the adjacent industrial park; First Street South corridor; 19th Avenue Southwest; and the MinnWest Technology Campus and North Business 71 corridor.

The largest project for 2012 is the $3,043,675 Mills Auto Parts Center addition in the industrial park, followed by a $2 million Rice Care Center project -- one phase of a $5.6 million renovation of the facility on Willmar Avenue Southwest.

Coming in third is the $1.4 million Goodwill building at First Street and 19th Avenue Southwest.

The city also had a number of smaller but important projects, said Peterson.

"They all add to the fabric of the community and to the tax base,'' he said.

Those were a Ridgewater College reroofing project, $332,940; Willmar Plumbing and Heating addition, $233,024; West Central Communications addition, $220,000; Kandiyohi County Historical Society addition, $180,000; remodeling of a space for Cherry Berry, $150,000; Willmar 10 remodeling of the former Runnings location, $124,600; Applebee's addition, $120,000; Rule Tire remodeling, $95,000; MinnWest Technology remodeling in Building No. 24, $95,000; and Skylark Mall/ACMC remodeling, $91,500.

According to "word of mouth,'' a barbecue restaurant is coming to town, but Peterson said he has no other information.

Peterson anticipates seeing six big projects in 2013. The largest is a $10 million-plus expansion and remodeling project at Ridgewater College.

Others are a Minnesota Department of Transportation Willmar office and facility expansion at $5 million plus; Mills car dealership building valued at more than $5 million; two more phases of the Rice Care Center remodeling, valued at more than $2 million each; and a renovation of Rice Home Medical, valued at $800,000.

"So all in all in this economy, I think we've done very well on the commercial and industrial side of it. Our numbers for this year far surpass last year and hopefully things will continue to go strong right to the end of the year. We'll be adding to this list until the end of the year,'' Peterson said in a report Thursday to the City Council's Community Development Committee.

Committee member Ron Christianson said the report was good news.

"We should applaud,'' he said. "People in the private sector, they've got faith.''

Peterson said Highway 12 East won't be neglected. He expects to see plans come up for zoning review for the first phase of a multi-year project on a major facility that is going to run into the millions of dollars.

Also, Peterson hopes to see "something pop'' on the Highway 12 East site of the former Elm Lane trailer park.

"That's such a perfect piece of property right now,'' he said.

Both projects are located on private property.

Committee Chair Jim Dokken thanked Peterson for putting the report together.

"It really does show a nice mix of private and public dollars being spent,'' he said. "Information is power and accurate information is very powerful, and I think what we have here is very accurate information that the citizens of this city can take note of and see that we are in fact making nice progress in uncertain times.''

Peterson said some people think that there shouldn't be any public expenditures.

"But those are expenditures that are important to the quality of life to the lifestyle of the community, and people have to remember that all of that is supported by private investment,'' he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150