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Willmar City Council approves land pricing write-down policy

The city of Willmar hopes to create businesses and create jobs by reducing the sale price of city-owned properties in the new industrial park. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Economic development officials say the purpose of a land pricing write-down policy adopted by the Willmar City Council this week is to create businesses, expand existing businesses and create jobs by reducing the sale price of city-owned properties in the new industrial park.

Officials say the policy is necessary to stay competitive with other cities selling industrial properties.

The policy was recommended by the council’s Community Development Committee and was approved unanimously by the council Monday night.

“The type of program we’re suggesting is common in municipalities throughout the region and certainly in Minnesota and the five-state area,’’ said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

“Even though we like to maximize our return on our land, our true growth for the city will come from expanding existing businesses, creating new businesses and creation of jobs.

The EDC endorses this request,’’ Renquist told the council.

Councilman Rick Fagerlie, Community Development Committee chairman asked Renquist to speak in case council members had any questions. He then offered a motion, seconded by Councilman Bruce DeBlieck, to adopt the policy.

“You have to create new jobs,’’ said Fagerlie.

Councilman Steve Ahmann asked Renquist who is Willmar’s competition for land prices.

Renquist said Alexandria, Fergus Falls and Brainerd have similar programs. He said the result is greatly diminished land prices to encourage industry to select their city. He said Willmar competes in this area with Alexandria and Fergus Falls and somewhat with St. Cloud.

“I would never diminish Benson or Montevideo or Litchfield,’’ he said. “But it probably would be Alex and Fergus Falls that we compete primarily with, especially in the expansion of our industrial park. They’re very strong in the industrial sectors.’’

Ahmann said the policy talks about creating jobs but makes no mention of the types of jobs or wages.

Bruce Peterson, Willmar’s director of planning and development, said the city’s adopted business subsidy policy would apply, which requires a $12-per-hour minimum wage floor, exclusive of benefits, for any type of transaction that results in a business subsidy in excess of $25,000.

Peterson said a developer or project that does not generate the jobs that they state in the agreement they would generate is required to repay any incentives that were paid to them.

Councilman Ron Christianson asked if locl businesses wanting to expand will be treated the same as someone coming from outside the city.

Peterson said yes.

“We all know our best potential for future growth lies with our existing companies and their ability to expand,’’ Peterson said. “If this helps any local company in any way, we’d welcome that. And that’s what we’re looking for to be a big part of this process.’’

In other development-related business, the council approved a Community Development Committee recommendation to accept the former downtown Rule Tire Shop as a gift from the Rule family, unless the family is able to complete a transaction with a nonprofit entity that wants to use the property for a parking lot.

The city since April has been discussing with heirs of Jim Rule the possibility of receiving the property as a gift. The former tire shop, located at the corner of Seventh Street and Benson Avenue Southwest, is in disrepair and is three years behind on property taxes and penalties.

The family has expressed urgency in completing a transaction, or else they are going to let the property go to tax forfeiture, Fagerlie reported. Recently, a nonprofit entity came forward that would like to acquire the property for parking, which would keep the property on the tax rolls.

Peterson recommended the city continue to work as a liaison between the parties and to try to complete the gift of the property to the nonprofit entity. Failing that, staff recommended the city accept the property as a gift.

The council referred the matter to the Finance Committee to determine a source to fund demolition, estimated at $60,000.

Also Monday, Mayor Frank Yanish welcomed Councilman Jim Dokken back to the council. Dokken had been on medical leave following hip surgery.

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