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EDC chooses Windstream building on Highway 12 as its new office location

The Windstream/En-Tel building on East Highway 12 is the location chosen Friday as the new office site for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. The EDC will move into the space later this year. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

WILLMAR — On a 4-2 vote Friday, the joint powers board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission chose the Windstream building on East Highway 12 as the EDC’s new home.

The board’s decision marks the end of weeks of discussion and evaluation involving more than a dozen potential office sites. The timetable calls for moving the EDC office to the new location in November, when the lease expires for the current office space at Centre Place in downtown Willmar.

Board members split on the vote, however, reflecting dissension over the choice.

Voting in favor of the Windstream location were Jim Butterfield, Ron Christianson, Harlan Madsen and Dean Shuck. Steve Ahmann and Denis Anderson voted no. The site also was the recommendation of the joint operations board of the Economic Development Commission.

Ahmann, a joint powers board member and Willmar City Councilman, backed an 11th-hour proposal to rent space in the Eastgate building. The site, also on East Highway 12, wasn’t on the list of prospective locations reviewed by a subcommittee and wasn’t even in the running until last week.

But after touring it and talking to the building’s owner, Ahmann said he sees it as the best choice.

The Eastgate space is attractive, professional-looking and meets the EDC’s needs for visibility, parking and office space, he said.

More to the point, the rent is the lowest of all the sites that were under consideration, he said. He estimated it would cost $1,000 less a month than the lease for space in the Windstream building.

“I think the taxpayers would be more than happy to say we’re going to save $12,000 a year,” Ahmann said.

A motion he made on behalf of the Eastgate site died for lack of a second, however, amid objections by other board members about the fairness of accepting a last-minute proposal.

“I’m concerned about the process,” said Ron Christianson.

Denis Anderson also voted against the selection of the Windstream building but with different concerns in mind.

The Willmar Elks Lodge is negotiating to buy the building but the deal hasn’t been completely finalized yet. Anderson said he has reservations about agreeing to lease space before the purchase goes through. “Things happen,” he said.

Harlan Madsen said he wasn’t opposed to remaining in the current office space in downtown Willmar. His main goal, he said, was to choose a location that projects “a positive image.”

“I’m not interested in just the low bid,” he said. “I want the EDC office to be highly representative of quality.”

Adequate office space, functionality, parking and the availability of storage space all were pluses cited by the board members who voted in favor of the Windstream location.

Details of the lease will likely be finalized this fall. The space will undergo some minor interior redecorating before the Economic Development Commission moves in before the end of the year.

In a separate interview after the meeting, Ahmann said he believes the joint powers board, made up of three Kandiyohi County Commissioners and three Willmar City Councilmembers, “dropped the ball on saving the taxpayers $50,000 over a five-year period.”

“It is about dollars and cents with government,” he said. “I don’t think it was a wise decision by elected officials.”

He also questioned the legality of agreeing to lease space from an entity that doesn’t yet own the building.

“My concern is about what the citizens are going to say. People need to know what’s going on,” he said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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