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Despite budget constraints, officials see a bright future for Chatfield


Fri, Jan 22nd, 2010
Posted in Progress Edition

Chatfield is exploring opportunities to renovate and utilize Potter Auditorium. Photos by Karen Reisner

New Development and Renewal of the Old

Chatfield has enjoyed a productive 2009 with the completion and opening of the new elementary school. The collaboration of the city, Fillmore County and the Chatfield school board made possible the location of not only the new elementary school, but also the development of the new subdivision, Hilltop Estates. Over the last couple of years the ability of the three entities to work together allowed for the erection of the water tower and the construction of Hillside Drive. Ron Zeigler, community development coordinator, said the collaboration made possible the breakthrough of the infrastructure barrier to get water and sewer to the top of the bluff.

The new elementary school opened September 8 after a decade of referendums. The state of the art facility was built at a cost of over $16.5 million.

With the new elementary school, the city and school board have faced the question of what is the best avenue to follow with the retired school and the historic Potter Auditorium. The ability of the city, the school board, and the Chatfield Economic Development Authority (EDA) to work together to preserve and improve the two historic buildings to build a center for the arts will be a central focus for the community in the coming year.

Zeigler feels the revitalization of Potter could be a huge event for downtown Chatfield. He sees Potter as a major asset to the community and its renewal could spur the renovation and rehabilitation of the downtown providing opportunities for entrepreneurs. It has been estimated that an up and running Potter Center for the Arts could bring 14,000 visitors to the city each year. This could have a predicted economic impact of as much as $7.6 million over the next ten years for the area.

Potter has already received a small grant from the first historical and cultural grants awarded by the Minnesota Historical Society in the amount of $6,750 for the production of Potter Center for the Arts Historic Structure Report. Zeigler has made a pitch for a legacy grant recently in St. Paul. Money has been approved by the city council in the amount of $15,000 to hire a lobbyist to work to obtain funding for the project.

Zeigler sees the resurfacing of Highway 52 ahead of schedule as an important achievement for 2009. It is hard to imagine that it could have remained passable until 2011 when it had been scheduled for improvement.

Chatfield's main street continues to have some empty store fronts, even with the opening of several businesses over the last couple of years, the most recent being a flower shop, Flowers Only. A Small Cities Block Grant has helped with the rehabilitation of four or five buildings in the downtown area. The grant was part of a larger grant that also included Preston and Ostrander.

Zeigler and Mayor Les Knutson have been doing a survey, meeting with every business owner in the city to thank them and to see what needs they want addressed. The intention is to make the business community stronger.

City Clerk Joel Young rates the recent improvements, including the water tower, as the kind that are capable of being sustained over time, being long term capital improvements. He added he is excited about the agreement with Fountain on the operation of their new wastewater treatment plant which recently went into operation.

Health and Safety Services

Young believes the community should be proud of its ability to service a wide range of health care needs including Olmsted Medical, chiropractic services, dentistry, and the nursing home and assisted living.

He explained the city of Chatfield has an agreement with Olmsted County which will improve the weather warning system for the city. Chatfield will have to buy its own sirens, but Olmsted County will maintain them and when their superior storm watching capability identifies a need, it will trip them.

Growth During Recession

Chatfield has managed to grow in tough economic times. Even with the slow down in new housing growth nationwide, the city has issued permits for six new single family homes in 2009 as compared with seven in 2008 and eight in 2007. The city approved the second preliminary plat for Hilltop Estates, including a six-lot subdivision in May, 2009. The city has developed lots available in the first and second subdivisions of Hilltop Estates, Fingerson-Donahoe, Lonestone Court and Orchard Ridge Townhomes. The total lots in all of those listed are 145 lots, of which 70 are sold. Chatfield has shown basically steady growth in households and population over the past decade. The lots vary in value so people with a wide range of incomes may find a building lot affordable to them.

Young noted the Historic Preservation Commission is studying the city's residential historical assets like the Queen Anne homes. These older structures are assets to a community that many fail to recognize.

Young acknowledged the unknowns and limitations imposed on city government in the coming year due to the uncertainties and expected further reductions in Local Government Aid from the state.

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