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From sleepy town to boom town

Fri, Jan 26th, 2001
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Chatfield undergoes dramatic changeBy Mary JergensenMonday, January 29, 2001

One of Chatfield's claims to fame is that they are the only town in Fillmore County with a stoplight. While that may conjure up a sleepy small town Mayberry image in some people's mind, the truth is that Chatfield is a town undergoing dramatic change. The city of over 2,000 people , which straddles Olmsted and Fillmore counties, is a proverbial boom town experiencing unprecidented growth.

"Things are changing in Chatfield and I think it's important to recognize the change and deal with it, " says City Clerk Joel Young. "We're experiencing rapid growth regionally, both economically and physically. In 1992, property market values were almost $44 million, today that figure has increased to $85 million."

Investment in new business start-ups along with capital improvements to existing businesses have literally transformed the face of the city. In the last several years, a motel, gas station - convenience store and mini-storage company have started up. Tax Increment Financing has helped create a strip-mall, with grocery, bank and post office, and also assisted a bus company and sandwich shop with their development. A second bank, as well as a car wash, have expanded and gone through major face-lifts. Throw in Chatfield's strong industrial base, a revitalized downtown and new housing starts and you have an economically vibrant community.

"We are a well rounded, economically diverse community," Mayor Greg Forbes is quick to point out. "Traditionally this area's income has been based on agriculture, and it still is, but that profile is changing. The major manufacturers in town were started and have developed right here. We have support industries, the school and Chosen Valley Care Center. We don't rely solely on Rochester and we don't think of ourselves as a bedroom community. We can stand on our own."

Downtown Revitalization

With only one store front vacant on Main Street, Chatfield's downtown would be the envy of any small town in America. In 1996 Paul and Michelle Turner purchased the existing hardware store and brought new energy to Main Street. Originally from Kasson, the Turner's were looking for a new opportunity when the store became available. Today, the Chatfield Hardware Hank carries everything you would imagine in a hardware store and more.

A few years after the Turners took over their store, Myron and Kristi Allen bought the business directly across the street. It had been a mens clothing store, but Kristi was a little skeptical about the market appeal of a mens clothing store and so the Allen's added an embroidering machine. Now, custom design embroidery is a big part of their business. In fact, Kristi recently embroidered several rolls of toilet paper with the Minnesota Vikings logo, which as it turns out was appropriate in light of their odoriferous loss to the Giants.

Specializing in flowers and gift baskets, Sweet Petals, Etc. opened its doors last September offering a variety of products such as gourmet pasta, European Chocolate, and specialty teas and coffees.

More recently Greg and Lorie Klinkhammer took over the bakery in town. Greg is a master baker who had been looking for a small shop of his own after working in his family's bakery in Northfield. Chatfield's re-emerging downtown and the quality people helped persuade the Klinkhammers to buy. November and December are typically the busy season for bakeries and the end of last year was no exception. "Business has been very good", laughed Lorie, "but now we'd like to catch our breath and get to know our neighbors."

The newest kids on the block are Erik and Katie Riveness, who have purchased the Chosen Bean Coffee House and will re-open under the new name Wide Eye Coffee House. They plan to serve specialty coffees and muffins in the morning and have a lunch menu of soups and sandwiches. For now they intend to be open on Saturday nights with live entertainment.Housing Expansion

The city's industrial leaders, Touhy Furniture and Strongwell Corporation employ around 450 workers. As these
companies have expanded, so have the need for employees and housing. And Chatfield
has responded.

In 2000, 48 new lots were platted. On the south end of town Geoff and Greg Griffin have broken ground for a manufactured homes park. Another development, the three stage Conway subdivision is planned for the area immediately behind the Chosen Valley Care Center. Lots begin at $32,900 and will focus on moderate to up-scale housing.

Across the road from Mill Creek Park , the Mill Pond townhouse complex has just been completed. This project added 24 income qualified townhouses. On the hill behind Skippy's IGA lies the May-Cal housing development. The 24 lots in this development will qualify for the First Homes Program.

On the north side, high on the hill overlooking Chatfield and the beautiful Chosen Valley, stands the Ter-Mar development. This is currently the "high-end" development, with lots ranging in price from $36,000 to $44,000.

Annexed from the township to the city, the residences are on the city's sewer system but must maintain private wells. "For years there has been talk of building a water tower on the hill to better service these residents and those talks continue," stated Young.

The city is not content to sit back and watch the grass grow. Bob Pederson, Chatfield's new Community Resource Director, has big plans for the city's social agenda. A twenty-eight-year veteran employee of the city, Pederson knows the ins and outs of public programs and how to make use of the area's very vital human resources. First on Pederson's "to-do" list is to increase tourism and further promote Chatfield as the "Gateway to Bluff Country". He is also planning for the city's Sesquicentennial in 2003. In addition, he is working on "Connections," a mentorship program which will begin pairing youth and mentors as early as next months."In the future I can see expanding the city'sparks and maybe a winter carnival," Pederson added.

Mayor Forbes gives the credit for the positive direction the city has taken to the entrepreneurs who "had a dream and have made that dream a reality". He feels that the city has a unique opportunity with Highway 52 passing right through downtown. But Forbes comments, "the best part about being mayor of Chatfield is the city's resources and wonderful people."

Young says that one problem he has seen as a result of the recent growth is that the downtown merchants complain that there isn't enough parking for
their customers. He takes the matter seriously, but with a smile on his face, he says,” "It's a great problem to have.

By Mary Jergensen

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