Willmar Mayor Doug Reese touts city progress and sets his agenda during state of the city address
“Tonight’s a night to reflect on our progress and look forward to the future of Willmar,” Willmar Mayor Doug Reese said. "I promise to look at each action, motion, resolution that passes over my desk, determining if the action is good for our city.”
WILLMAR — During the state of the city address at Tuesday’s Willmar City Council meeting, Mayor Doug Reese touted the recent accomplishments of the city under former Mayor Marv Calvin, the City Council and city staff. He also set his agenda for the upcoming year.
“Tonight’s a night to reflect on our progress and look forward to the future of Willmar,” Reese said. “And, first of all I would like to thank the citizens of Willmar for their overwhelming support in the election. I count it as a great privilege to serve as your mayor. I promise to look at each action, motion, resolution that passes over my desk, determining if the action is good for our city.”
Reflecting on the city’s progress
“One of the greatest accomplishments Willmar citizens did was passing of the local option sales tax, or LOST,” Reese said, noting that the Robbins Island Regional Park, Swansson Field, recreation turf fields and the Events and Recreation Center projects will be finalized this spring.
The city will continue to use the sales tax funding for stormwater improvements throughout the city during street improvement projects and new development of businesses.
Two new positions were created in 2022 — operations director and director of community growth. Kyle Box was hired to fill the operations director position in April. The council at Tuesday’s meeting approved the hiring of Jose Pablo Obregon to fill the director of community growth position.
The Mayor’s Housing Task Force completed and presented its findings to the council in October 2022 and a housing study was completed through the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, both supporting the need for single-family housing in the city, Reese noted.
The city has successfully attracted several multi-family housing projects throughout the last several years that are in various stages of construction, he added.
Referring to a report conducted last year regarding the Willmar City Auditorium , Reese said the council approved digitizing the relief panels on the front of the building and the War Memorial Room in order to “forever preserve these beautiful works of art.” Proposals for lead abatement work in the auditorium will be sought in the early part of the spring, he added.
The city learned during COVID-19 that it needed an updated software system that would allow remote connection for the council and city staff, and the city has been transitioning to new software systems, according to Reese.
In addition to software choices for city payroll and council agenda packets, other software will allow staff in all city departments to access expense accounts, approve invoices, search for vendor payments, track grants and project costs and create reports.
Looking forward to the future
One of the priorities Reese set for 2023 is the “urgent need” for single-family housing.
“We are going to have to be creative by working with the county, Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and private partnerships as to how to address new single-family housing,” he said. “There’s no shortcut to fix this problem. This will take long-range planning and hard work from a lot of agencies and private businesses, but I want to assure Willmar residents that housing will continue to be a priority of this council.”
Another priority for Reese is a new community center and a new city hall .
“I’m requesting that the council place these two projects as a high priority for 2023. These two projects will be used by this community for the next 75 to 100 years,” he said.
He would like the council to decide on a location for a new city hall and move forward with construction plans in order to begin construction in 2024.
“Construction will not be any less expensive, and our city deserves to have a city hall and community center that reflects why we continue to work, live and play in this wonderful community,” Reese commented.
There are many projects slated to be completed this year by the city, including an outdoor fitness court that will be located at Sperry Park and a citywide broadband project through Hometown Fiber, according to Reese.
The city was also awarded $740,000 in grant funding for the downtown and business district, which will be administered by the EDC and distributed by the Southwest Initiative Foundation. Reese noted the grant applications will open in March and grants can be used for a range of remodeling and other improvements.
Retail stores slated to open in 2023 include Slim Chickens , Popeye’s and TJ Maxx , and there are plans for the construction of storage units along 22nd Street Southwest and a Les Schwab Tires to be built in front of Menards on First Street South, according to Reese.
The industrial park continues to grow with Nexyst 360 drafting a purchase agreement for 134 acres that will include use of the BNSF Wye , and the railroad bypass is helping to attract other large businesses that need access to rail, according to Reese.
The city received a $900,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to make improvements to Minnesota State Highway 40 to accommodate Nexyst 360, Reese noted.
“All of this is due to hard work from the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission,” he said. “The EDC continues to work very hard to grow our community, along with the county. Thank you Aaron (Backman) and all the staff for all the hard work.”
Another project for which the city will be seeking a grant is for upgrades to the Willmar trailhead located at the Civic Center. According to Reese, the city is applying to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for a $187,500 grant that will help fund the first phase of a three-phase project to provide restrooms, a shelter and reconstruction of the parking lot at the trailhead.
As for city staffing, Public Works Director Gary Manzer has announced his retirement in September, Reese noted. The city is currently in the process of hiring a public works superintendent and the search for a new director will begin in June, he said.
With the retirement of Willmar Police Sgt. Mike Jahnke, the city will start the search for a new sergeant in April and will then hire an additional patrol officer later this year, Reese added. He noted the Willmar Fire Department is currently searching for paid volunteer firefighters as well.
“Citizens of Willmar in recent years have built a better future. We have made investments within our city that have brought about some wonderful amenities to our city,’ Reese said. “All these amenities are attractive to the businesses and companies looking at locating within our city. I am optimistic and remain boldly confident in the future of the city of Willmar.”