MinnWest zoning change approved by City Council
WILLMAR -- A zoning change will let a Willmar company operate a technology business at the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center. The Willmar City Council on Monday night approved the zoning change from government/ institutional to technology ...
WILLMAR -- A zoning change will let a Willmar company operate a technology business at the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center.
The Willmar City Council on Monday night approved the zoning change from government/ institutional to technology for MinnWest Technology on 95 acres at the former Regional Treatment Center campus.
Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, said the zoning change establishing the technology zoning classification was requested by the MinnWest owners.
MinnWest bought 37 treatment center buildings and most of the 113 acres in January. MinnWest will use the land and buildings to house its businesses, including Epitopix and Nova-Tech Engineering, that company officials say could bring several hundred new jobs to Willmar.
"This is the site that they proposed to develop as their technology campus,'' Peterson told the council. He said the owners have already submitted a plan for one new, considerably large building on that site, "so they are moving ahead with new development out there.''
The zoning change affects only MinnWest's land and buildings, said Peterson. The change does not affect the former treatment center's remaining 18 acres and seven buildings, which were bought by Kandiyohi County.
Peterson said the council had agreed several months ago to incorporate the MinnWest portion into the state Job Opportunity Building Zone program. The program was passed by the Legislature in 2003 and began in 2004 to provide tax relief to startup and expanding companies until Dec. 31, 2015.
Peterson said there will be no net real estate taxes gained for a period of time from the MinnWest property. After that time, there should be a considerable tax collection because the city assessor has valued the campus in the range of $16 million, according to Peterson.
In other business, the council received a report on the state of Ridgewater College from President Dr. Douglas Allen. Allen was invited to speak by Mayor Les Heitke, who wanted council members and residents to receive a better understanding of the college's vision and goals.
Allen said the college was established in 1961 as Willmar Community College and operates campuses at Willmar and Hutchinson. Ridgewater is one of 32 colleges and universities in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
He said the Hutchinson and Willmar campuses served 9,465 credit-seeking students during summer, fall and spring semesters. The number includes high school students in the post-secondary enrollment options program.
"This is probably a testimony to our K-12 system, but many of those students who come to us as juniors or seniors in high school are really some of our top performing students,'' said Allen. "They're ready for another challenge, ready to get a jump-start on college. The number fluctuates. We don't recruit them.''
Allen listed Ridgewater's wide range of programs and offerings. He said he knows Willmar and Hutchinson are loyal to their campuses. But Allen said part of his vision has been to create the "sense and the reality'' that Ridgewater is one college with two campuses.
"I think that's really important because we serve a very broad regional area of west central Minnesota,'' he said. "I prefer to think that Ridgewater is a great bridge. It's a bridge from high school, it's a bridge to a four-year university, it provides an opportunity for people to discover not just what their skills are, but where their passions lie.''
Allen said the college will add men's soccer as a varsity sport this fall, and the college will have its first multicultural celebration April 10-14.
He said Sen. Dean Johnson and Rep. Al Juhnke, both Democrats of Willmar, have put forward a funding bill to enable the college to move programs out of the remaining Quonset huts, which were used when the college site was an Air Force radar base.
"We're faced with needing to put a 40-year roof on a building whose life span was to be maybe 25 or 30 years.''
He said the college is studying the possibility of offering online programs. "It's tough because we're so used to the face-to-face,'' he said. "But we are recognizing that we need to do something to look at different ways of delivering things.''