Chatfield EDA looks at future development opportunities

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

The Chatfield Economic Development Authority (EDA) was pleased to hear from EDA Director Chris Giesen that the papers for the Twiford redevelopment property had been signed in late July for the sale of the land and the impending construction of a Dollar General store. The sale marks the end of several years of the EDA’s work to market that property to a new owner, with efforts including attempts to develop a hotel and other dollar stores on the plot.

Giesen addressed the EDA as he inquired, “What other areas of town should we focus on? Which way should we expand? We could make a list…and when something comes up that we’re being asked to help with, we can stay within that list and decide how we want to support something or not support it. We can keep track of it and do some marketing. Housing has been busy…maybe we focus on housing and a hotel, but it’s going through the process and getting input, because having buy-in from the public is important.”

EDA member Paul Novotny said of the suggestions on Giesen’s list, “It’s all valid.”

Farmers markets

He then brought up a topic that caught the rest of the members’ attention, noting that farmers’ and vendors’ markets in Rochester and the Twin Cities bring crowds that in turn may invest in those cities through spending their money at local businesses.

He suggested that incorporating Chatfield’s farmers’ market into downtown events for residents of all ages could offer opportunities for economic growth and neighborliness, as there seems to be missing interaction between certain age groups of people who live in Chatfield – specifically those who are younger than 40 and either have no family or a young family and communicate with one another most often by using social media.

EDA member Michael Tuohy agreed, “The framework is generally there for events.”

Novotny continued, “It’s there, but the people doing it are driving to another town to do it. We’ve got green space, we’ve got Potter…we don’t necessarily need anything new. We just need more of what’s going on.”

Giesen noted that there are businesses locating in Chatfield that “lend themselves well” to street markets and coordinated special evening outings that include local stores and restaurants.

“It’s how to promote it, get people excited about it and have a way to communicate the assets of the community and what’s going on,” Giesen said. “The business owners…is this something they want to do?”

Novotny countered, “Maybe they’re like everybody else – ‘We will do this, but we don’t have the time to be in charge of it’.”

Giesen suggested that a survey be sent to residents to gather their opinions on the subject – that if the EDA has a list of five to ten things that residents want to see the EDA do, it could act accordingly as it moves on from the Twiford redevelopment.

Visitor Patrick McNally remarked that if a survey comes in the mail alongside or included with his utility bill, it usually ends up in the trash because his is a young, busy family and the time to spare to fill out survey answers isn’t easily found. He added that he has interest in how to make residents aware of what Chatfield’s got to offer, including how to maximize the new swimming pool and how to get people to stay in town to work and play.

Novotny related that age has quite a lot of bearing on how people interpret information and invitations, acknowledging that someone younger than he would be interested in different kinds of activities than he was when he was that same age.

EDA member Mike Urban agreed, “There are different dynamics of different people.”

Novotny stated, “It’s how to get the next generation involved, because you can send all the surveys and letters you want, but if you don’t send it on Facebook or SnapChat, they’re not going to get it.”

Giesen went on, “I think it is creating events where people want to be, creating a sense of place where people want to be instead of this being just a place people sleep.”

Novotny concurred that Chatfield has plenty to offer and that efforts to maximize that would be a start.

Giesen concluded, “We’ve got to create a ‘destination mentality’ and put a call out to say we’re trying to do something maybe once a month. There are a lot of possibilities, but if we try to create them from this side of the table, I don’t think it’s going to work, but if somebody puts in ideas, it’s what criteria we use to determine how we give help.”