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Land sale to Jennie-O passed: Council unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing the sale

WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council has authorized the sale of 7.6 acres of land in the city’s industrial park to Jennie-O Turkey Store.

The company plans to expand its corporate headquarters there.

The council unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing the sale at its Monday evening meeting. Under a city policy to encourage economic development, the land value of $238,072 will be written down to zero.

The council also voted to allow the mayor and city administrator to enter into an agreement for the land sale. As part of the agreement, the council approved a 10-year option or first right of refusal for 30 acres in the industrial park for a possible future plant expansion.

The council approved the sale a month ago on a voice vote, but the city staff later found that a public hearing was required because the sale must be approved by city ordinance.

The land is two parcels of about 8 acres between the south end of the Public Works maintenance property and Kandiyohi County Road 5. The parcels had a combined value of $238,072 which would be written down to $0 under the city’s land write-down policy.

During a public hearing on the ordinance, several people urged the council to approve the sale with a unanimous vote. Some members of the council have raised questions about the project and the early negotiations that led to the land sale.

Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Chamber of Commerce and a Willmar resident, said he wanted to see the city send a “positive message” by going forward with the sale.

“What a benefit it is for our city to have an organization like this want to call Willmar home,” said Mike Carlson, a city resident and chairman of the Willmar School Board. “They are willing to contribute and make Willmar a better community.”

Others talked about the ways Jennie-O has aided different parts of the community. Christie Kurth, director of the Willmar Area Food Shelf, said the company supports the food shelf and other organizations behind the scenes. “I think it’s time we support them,” she said.

Bob Skor of Willmar took the other side. In his 62 years in Willmar, he said, “We have supported Jennie-O; we’ve given them all the breaks in the world.”

Skor said he thought the company could afford to pay for the land on its own without city help. He added that he was worried about how a tax increment financing plan for the project would affect other taxpayers.

Later in the meeting Bruce Peterson, the city’s planning and development director said that tax increment financing would use taxes on the new development to help pay for part of the project, and it will not affect the property taxes paid by others.

Steve Renquist, head of the Willmar/Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission, said the land sale policy would benefit from the development and the jobs it creates much more than from a land sale.

Jennie-O’s employees in the region have a $1 billion effect on the local economy, he said.

Councilman Ron Christianson said he believed the vote would be unanimous, as it had been last month, and said it was troubling that people would doubt the council’s intentions.

Christianson then said that the process for the project had taken years, but the council was never part of the discussion. He said the city’s assistance is more significant than many people realize.

In other business, the council voted to advertise for bids for nearly $6 million in street improvement projects for this year. Residents on Ninth Street Southwest had presented a petition asking that overlay work on their street be delayed. Council members said they would make a decision on how to proceed with that street after bids have been received.

The council also approved a 2014-15 contract with the city public works union. The contract includes 2 percent annual raises.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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