The Preston City Council members had their eyes focused on the future as they met for their Tuesday, Jan. 16, meeting.

Two cities, Preston and Spring Valley, have been working to bring a state veterans home to the area.

Last year, the cities joined forces to strengthen their legislative bill, which asks for a home to be built in Fillmore County. If awarded the project, the Fillmore County Commissioners will then decide which of the two sites the home will be built on.

The city of Preston has had a land option with Bob Doherty for the 15 acres selected for the proposed site, located just north of Preston.

This option will expire at the end of February and the Preston Economic Development Authority (EDA) recommended exercising the option agreement to purchase the land at $14,000 an acre for a total of $210,000.

As proposed, the city would put 15 percent down, $31,500, and finance the remaining $178,500 at five percent interest with an annual payment of $30,000.

“I believe the first order is either Mr. Doherty or the city needs to entice an engineer and a surveyor to survey what that property is going to comprise of; we can't really go ahead and purchase it without knowing what we are buying,” stated Councilmember Robert Maust.

Questions arose on what access is available to the property, since the plans include entrances to the north and south of the site.

According to Mayor Kurt Reicks, Doherty has stated he is not interested in extending the land option, so the group would need to get the survey and any engineering done before Feb. 28.

According to Reicks, they did discuss a possible first-right-of-refusal agreement. This would mean the city could pay a certain amount and if someone else wanted to purchase the land, the city would then be given the first chance to purchase it at that time. If the city chose to then purchase the land, the amount already given would be deducted from the purchase price.

The downside to this is if the city did not end up purchasing the property it would lose the amount given for the agreement and if the other buyer's offer is higher, the city would have to match it.

“In my opinion, I would like to see it go that way rather than purchase the property,” Reicks said. “I support the veterans home full-heartedly and I would do anything to get that here. I just have a tough time spending this much taxpayers' money when we don't know what we are going to do with it.”

Councilmember Holly Zuck agreed and suggested the city wait until the commissioners have decided whether the home would be awarded to Preston or Spring Valley.

“We want to make sure we are making the right investment,” Zuck expressed. “I'm all for the veterans home, it is going to be an awesome asset, but we just can't put the cart before the horse.”

Ron Scheevel, who is the co-chair for the Preston Area Veterans Committee, along with Don Gildner, addressed the council.

“We are competing with Spring Valley for the right to have the home and at this point we don't have a site. If we let this option go we won't have a site. Personally, I think this is the time to exercise it; the price, I think, is fair and the terms are good,” Scheevel said. “On behalf of the veterans, we need a site to be ready to go, Spring Valley has that.”

Scheevel then surprised the council by announcing he, along with his wife Patricia, would be donating $10,000 for the purchase of the property and, in addition, the family's  company, Scheevel and Sons, would donate $10,000 of in-kind work towards preparing the property for the project.

“In the event that a veterans home does not materialize in Preston these donations are to stay with the city to develop this site as directed by the city council,” Scheevel stated.

The board thanked Scheevel for his generosity and dedication to the project.

“If this happens and we are fortunate enough to be the site of that veterans care center it will change this community forever,” Maust said.

A motion to move forward with a survey and preliminary engineering was approved by the council.

Fillmore County EDA director

Fillmore County EDA Director Marty Walsh took a moment to introduce himself to the council.

Walsh took over as the new director in October and already has several new projects he is involved in for the county.

“We recognize that quality of life is a pretty important driver of the tax base here in Fillmore County, whether it be through tourism or the residents that live here. So, one of the projects we are working on right away is a recreation map for the whole county. There isn't anything that ties together the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), county or privately-owned amenities that we have all over the place. That is something we hope to have out by the trout opener, so April 14,” Walsh said.

He noted they are also working to bring more housing developments to the area, as the need continues to grow.

Business development will be another focus for Walsh and the county EDA board.

NTC annual report

The council received the National Trout Center's annual report for review.

According to the report, the NTC had more than 1,300 visitors from April through October.

The group announced it exceeded its fundraising goal by bringing in nearly 100 businesses, individual and family donors.

New developments for 2018 included fishing equipment rentals, which was created thanks to a grant from the Preston Area Community Foundation.

The rentals will be available for free to veterans and their families.

The NTC will also be re-establishing its nine-hole fishing course along the banks the Root River in Preston.

“They had a great year. Anne Lewis, our director at that time, did a great job promoting and she is a real asset. They are proposing to have a new part-time director hired next year. Anne is going to be around to do some of the fundraising like she has in the past, so she is still going to be involved,” said Reicks, who also sits on the NTC board.

Other business

•  The council approved the $500 fee for the EDA to work with the University of Minnesota's Center for Small Towns to update the city's portion of the 2009 Fillmore County housing study.

•  The restructuring of the Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF) loan to Ristau Farm Service using revolving loan funds was approved. This will allow the EDA to take advantage of new MIF guidelines which, if approved, would allow for a broader use of the funds.

•  The next meeting will be held on Monday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m.