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Rushford preps 43 project, looks long-term

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Jan 24th, 2014
Posted in Rushford Progress Edition

“This is not something we want to do. If we weren’t having utility problems, we wouldn’t do it.” That was the overall mood last fall of the impending state Highway 43 project scheduled to run through the heart of Rushford in 2014. Since September, following the results of a preliminary feasibility report by Otomo Engineering that detailed some of the potential $3.5 million project, the city has gradually coming to grips with what’s before them.

The city was already painfully aware of the conditions of some of the utilities that lay under the stretch of roadway when news of the project trickled down from the state level. Many of the utility issues were brought to light by and worsened by flooding in 2007, including 1885 pipe works which are rapidly deteriorating and causing excessive inflow and infiltration to the system, as well as a series of 1959 pipes which are also in poor condition.

The project is expected to be massive. Upgraded utilities and completely reconstructed streets and sidewalks will be long-term positive for the city, but for a city still recovering, the impact seems staggering. The total cost of the project hovers just over $3.5 million with the city’s share at $1,695,858, including assessments. The estimated assessment costs are $337,142. The assessments are expected to be shared over 64 properties, with the properties to be determined as those with the most benefit. MnDOT will contribute $1.5 million to the project, but no more.

Businesses have grown in the last seven years, with several new upstarts, but the potential effect the project could have some reeling. Already dealing with having to give up the city’s main thoroughfare for the duration of the project, the community is essentially at the mercy of the state is regards to alternative routes and project standards. The length of the project schedule concerns many, but City Administrator Steve Sarvi has attempted to reassure the public and business owners that the city will do all it can to move the project along.

Still, the city appears to be taking the project in stride and attempting to put as positive a spin on it as possible. In November, the city hired long-time marketing consultant Sally Ryman to assist the city with communication and marketing for the business community. Ryman has spent more than 30 years of her career with companies such as Minnesota Rural Electric Association, Land O’Lakes, Viafield, and Farmers Co-op Elevator in Rushford. “I’ve got an extensive background in getting people to work together better,” notes Ryman. “For the community, it’s a headache; an inconvenience. For businesses, this is their lifeblood. We need to work together a little more and have a broader scope.”

Ryman hit the ground running in her new position, heading up a November 18 business outreach meeting with the business community, EDA, Chamber of Commerce, and local officials. “We’re pushing businesses to get ready and we want the community to step forward,” said Ryman, and it’s not just businesses that the marketing communication plan is targeting. “It’s businesses of retail, manufacturing, and service, as well as churches, social groups, whether they are directly on Highway 43 or not. We want to get a handle on it for our constituency. Everyone will be impacted and we stress the need for cooperation with the whole community. It will take a positive attitude from everyone. We’re dubbing it, ‘The Summer of Inconvenience,’ but, it’s not insurmountable if everyone works together.”

In formulating a marketing communication plan with heavy emphasis by all on communication, Ryman and the committee studied several other projects within the state and several similar in Indiana, whether they were deemed successful or not. “We noted several things about the successful projects,” notes Ryman. “The business communities made a concerted effort in advance of the project. Also, they didn’t run marketing and construction on two parallel paths. They also hired a coordinator to work as a liaison between the city, businesses, and the community at large.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the foremost determinations of success came from taking an optimistic view. “People talked positively about the project. Yes, it’s an inconvenience, but we will have water and sewer that will last another 100 years, as well as a new street,” added Ryman. “Some are looking at it like a 6-month flood, but we’re looking at the fact that we have six months to prepare. The real key is keeping positive.”

The business community has been challenged by the steering committee to come forward with precisely what their needs are. Businesses and local entities are also being encouraged to spruce up on-site and online presences. In addition, the city and chamber are planning to update and maintain all websites, as current as possible, and are likewise encouraging others to do the same. Websites will be linked during and after the process to bolster further communication.

Ryman admits she looks back on the direction her former community of Moundsview took on a 10-year infrastructure project of its own. On that city site, updated project information is clearly listed with easy-to-find quick links and includes phase mapping, current schedule, contact information, and all other documentation relating to the project. “There was no excuse for not knowing what was going on,” noted Ryman in regards to the approach. “We are going to keep everyone informed. If the crews aren’t working, or if something has to happen, people will know why and how much it will delay the schedule, if any. We’re not anticipating any interruptions, but we will get the information out, by any means.”

So far, the city has concrete plans for monthly business and public meetings, weekly updates, and opportunity for added email notifications. It also calls for the use of social media, frequent press releases, and perhaps the local ace communications channel for Rushford, as well as some possible cooperative efforts with the school district. “The next 30-60 days [are] critical [for] collecting information and formulating schedules,” adds Ryman. “Through communications and coordination we’re stressing support of our businesses.

In a bold step, the city is encouraging local events and their expansion. “We don’t want people to pull back on scheduled events, but to expand on them. The key is making sure contractors know the details of events in working with event coordinators. We don’t want apprehension. Instead, we’re encouraging businesses to increase services and look for a wide array of opportunities. We need a good experience, or as good as it can be.” The steering committee will be rolling out the official marketing communication plan at the February 1 area chamber of commerce annual meeting, highlighting what’s going to be done and what’s available.

Part of that plan also includes the city intention to forward the newly developed brand through this opportunity. “We’re anticipating a brand challenge,” notes Ryman. ““There’s a lot of noise with Historic Bluff Country, the Root River Trail, and the Rushford Peterson brand. We need to present it all in a way that can support the community easily. People need a reminder why they should bother with going through the obstacles.”

And the city is not bothering with just the short term. “It’s a good plan. It’s flexible. Things are going to change here and there, but this is very open and allows for flexibility,” stressed Sarvi. “But, one thing we’re trying to look at is longevity, to look past the project.

The adopted steering committee mission statement backs that notion stating, “Not just looking at a positive outcome during the process, but long-term as well… to assist them through impacts, support the brand … maximizing opportunities long-term.”

On the other side of the project spectrum, Administrator Sarvi is working to iron out the construction end of the project. While work was initially projected to be bid this month, bids are expected to be out towards the middle to end of February, early March at the latest. Sarvi is confident the city will have the bids back in time to review and approve. A May start date is anticipated, but is dependent on weather. The timeline is roughly six months.

“We’ve tried to whittle down and cut what we could,” notes Sarvi. The city will require two crews working simultaneously for efficiency, beginning with the north and south ends, and stress then being put on finishing areas in front of R-P Schools and Farmers’ Cooperative Elevator as quickly as possible. “We’ll do whatever we can to speed the project along. The one unknown is the final cost,” added Sarvi. “We’ve stretched it every which way.” Still, he believes having an effective marketing communications plan and a positive community will be key to lessening the blow of the project.

“Bits and pieces of this are really going to stink, but we’re going to get through it. We learned through the flood recovery that we can do anything with hard work, good communication, and working together. Hopefully, by the end of it all, we’ll have a great new main street through town and businesses that are used to working well with each other, strengthening each other. We’re going to get through this. The more we work together and are open and communicate issues in advance, the better this is going to go.”

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