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Willmar City Council approves development agreement with Jennie-O Turkey Store for corporate office expansion

WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council took action this week to formally approve the development agreement between the city and Jennie-O Turkey Store for the land transfer and tax increment financing agreement.

Council approval authorizes Mayor Frank Yanish and City Administrator Charlene Stevens to execute the agreement and the real estate closing documents for the company’s proposed $6 million to $7 million corporate office addition.

The council’s Community Development Committee voted last week to recommend the council’s action. Councilman Rick Fagerlie, committee chairman, reported the committee’s vote during the Monday night council meeting.

Fagerlie said city staff explained that the real estate closing was scheduled for July 1 and that there would not be another council meeting prior to the closing to approve the agreement.

He said “claw-back’’ provisions in the agreement require Jennie-O to pay back any or all of the business subsidies in the agreement should the company fail to meet the agreement’s employment goals.

Councilman Jim Dokken asked City Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson to explain the claw-back provisions.

Peterson said Jennie-O is required to create 20 new jobs in two years and 40 new jobs in 10 years. Peterson said the city would have the right to claim reimbursement for a percentage of the original land acquisition value if Jennie-O does not meet its employment goals.

“That’s a pretty common provision to have in developer and business assistance agreements,’’ Peterson said.

Councilman Steve Ahmann said he supports the project and supports any industrial company that wants to expand in Willmar. But he said Jennie-O should have made its request for business assistance in writing to the council or sent a representative to a council meeting.

Prior to the vote, City Attorney Robert Scott requested the motion to approve the agreement be amended to allow for some language clarification. He said Jennie-O attorneys asked for the clarifications, which he characterized as “not substantial changes.’’

Councilman Ron Christianson asked why the revised agreement was not presented to the council and why the council was being asked to approve something it had not seen. “I ask out of concern. I don’t know what else to say,’’ he said.

All eight council members voted in favor of the agreement: Fagerlie, Ahmann, Christianson, Audrey Nelsen, Denis Anderson, Bruce DeBlieck, Tim Johnson and Jim Dokken.

Jennie-O’s potential development had been in the talking stage for the past six to eight years, but only gained traction earlier this year when the city was able to offer the company a couple of parcels in the new industrial park.

Master plan for parks

In other business, the council voted to enter into an agreement with SRF Consulting Group Inc. of Minneapolis to create a master plan for the city parks. The council had voted April 21 to seek proposals from consultants to develop the plan.

SRF’s $47,950 contract was the lowest of five firms that submitted proposals to create the master plan and was recommended by staff, according to Steve Brisendine, director of Willmar Community Education and Recreation.

Brisendine said staff had a very good discussion of the pros and cons of each proposal. He said SRF is a Minnesota company with a wealth of experience in park system planning and development and presented a plan that staff believes will be a blueprint that drives future park development and maintenance.

He said SRF’s plan has five key components:

* Provide opportunities to stakeholders and policymakers to participate in this planning process.

*Anticipate the demand system-wide and for special-use facilities as demographics and use demands change.

*Create a plan for Robbins Island that will allow that facility to host a wide variety of activities and events.

*Establish a clear statement of priorities for recreation, park and open space system, and develop a strategy for implementing and maintaining these initiatives.

* Deliver an action-oriented plan that can sustain the recreation and park system by engaging policymakers in a discussion of priorities, values and fiscal tools.

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