At the Monday, December 17 meeting, the Rushford Council approved a four goal plan submitted by the Economic Development Authority. The goals had been discussed and approved by the EDA December 12. The goals are to improve downtown vitality, increase local workforce 50 jobs by 2025, fill housing demand by 2025, and to more effectively market the community.
The objective of the first goal is simply to increase downtown traffic. Strides have already been made in recent years to bolster the downtown and the EDA hopes to continue that momentum via a downtown event network, including having a space to hold events. New events and activities, such as Root River Jams, were held in 2018 and the group would like to not only add additional plans, but to work on encouraging businesses marketing or sponsoring events. Part of this goal is getting the Minnesota Department of Transportation to assist the city with enhanced streetscapes and gathering places.
Increased workforce has also been a consistent goal of the EDA. In the new plan the strategy is to “provide resources to increase knowledge and network on business prospecting, scalability training, and employment preparation, recruitment, and retention needs.” In determining target areas, the plan calls for expanding the Bluff Country Collaborative, a workforce development program, in which it partners with the Rushford Peterson Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Rushford-Peterson School District. Another specific target area of this second goal focuses on the recruitment through a new family awareness concierge program, sharing employment opportunities and housing availability.
The housing puzzle is one that’s been a hot issue for some time. A housing study done recently laid out exactly what is needed in the community; now, it’s a matter of determining the best ways to make it happen. As noted by City Administrator Tony Chladek at the last council meeting, the city is 90-97% built out. For the EDA, the best strategy to remedy this is to, “encourage maximum redevelopment value of the old school site and to execute westward expansion.”
The first will include getting a public conversation going about the former school’s redevelopment and the city’s “Plan B” option. The latter, an expansion of land west of the current city boundaries, has been discussed at length in previous meetings, but no official action has been taken on it. The EDA hopes to continue talks with the landowner, make plans to extend utilities with the Highway 30 reconstruction project or sooner, and to seek a Phase I development of the plan.
The last goal has also been in play for sometime, most recently with work to increase local access channel and social media capabilities. The revised plan includes more of that, as well as sponsorship of a community video scholarship competition and the hiring of a web developer to maximize marketing efforts.
In other news, the council discussed trail grant opportunities for the city. Thrice turned down in a cooperative application with the school district for expanded pedestrian and bike-designated areas through a Safe Routes to School Grant Program, the city is now looking at changing gears a bit. “Now that there’s a sidewalk at Pine Meadows Lane, the connections are easier and it would be a completed loop,” said City Clerk Kathy Zacher. “This is a different direction now.”
Should existing trail and sidewalk access be expanded, it will improve access in all portions of the city, including to the school and its athletic fields. Due to this, the city wants to revisit some options with the school district. It was motioned that the city first determine if there is interest on behalf of the school and then, get a project quote from engineers for grant application. Much of the engineering work is already done courtesy of previous grant application and project planning.
The city is also working to determine steps to possibly reduce the speed along Highway 43 corridor as it approaches Pine Meadows Lane, the main thoroughfare off the highway to the new school. In order to alter the speed, however, the city would first need to pony up $7,000-10,000 for a Department of Transportation Speed Limit Study to determine if there is a sufficient need.
“This is just a study?” asked Councilor Jim O’Donnell. “Who pays for that? I thought this was kind of a done deal.”
Zacher indicated the DOT has approved striping the crosswalk, but the study would be required prior to any changes. “The engineer said they write few of these because school’s don’t usually move into an established area. He thinks they’d be very amenable to doing the change.”
“That’s crazy,” added Councilor Sally Ryman.
“You have to look at all the things,” responded Zacher.
“I am looking at all the things and I’m not impressed,” countered Mayor Chris Hallum.
“This was precipitated by the fact that the school moved,” noted Chladek indicating that if someone else applied for likewise, the city would require the proper steps and permitting as well. The topic will be revisited at a later date, following a meeting with the school district.
Lastly, the council has approved supporting the Historical Society with a portion of utility payment at the trailhead Historic Depot. Last meeting, the council received word that the Department of Natural Resources will no longer pay the electric and gas utility for a portion of the building it had operated. The city will cover the electric utility and help cover the gas utility until other means of support can be determined from other entities.
The city has also sought assistance from the DNR for some monetary compensation for the site, however. Mabel receives financial support to have a portable bathroom unit at their trail site and the city would like the same amount, but will apply it to utility payments since the restroom for the Rushford trailhead is in the side of the building previously funded by the DNR. There has been no response from the DNR as of yet.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, January 14, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.