EDA looking for ways to grow city westward

By : 
Chad Smith
Tri-County Record

The Rushford Economic Development Authority (EDA) addressed several important topics at its June 13 meeting. The first item was the Westerly Area Development Plan, which involves expanding the City of Rushford to the west. The other item involved a music event designed to increase traffic through downtown Rushford. 

Development plan update 

Rushford City Administrator Tony Chladek gave the EDA an update regarding progress in the Westerly Area Development Plan. The Rushford City Council is already trying to work with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and get permission to amend their Revolving Loan Fund (RLF)  policy. Doing so would allow the city to use some available money to extend the city’s utilities along Highway 30 out to the Westerly Development Area. 

“If we can do that, we wouldn’t have to bond for, and therefore raise taxes, to pay for these utility extensions,” Chladek said.  “We also wouldn’t have to put the burden of the extension, which is about a half a mile, on a potential developer. That would make the project cost-prohibitive for any lots they would potentially develop out there. From our standpoint, one of the best uses for some of these dollars, not all, is to get that utility extension out there so the community can continue to grow. 

“That would bring in more population to support the downtown area. It would bring in more population to support the tax base, to support the school, and bring in population that supports the local workforce.”

If the conversations with DEED don’t allow the city to use RLF dollars to finance the project, Chladek says the next step would be to pursue some special legislation at the state level. Rushford needs to get permission from the state-level to use some of those dollars because there is some flood money involved. But Chladek says the intention of spending the money is only to promote economic development for Rushford. 

On top of those constraints, there’s also a time crunch on the project. “Some time in 2022-2023, the Department of Transportation (MnDOT) will be working on a big project to improve Highway 30 all the way into Rushford,” Chladek said. “That means we’d have to not only extend utilities out there, but we may also have to change the size of the utilities, depending on how many lots will be out there in the future.”

Chladek pointed out some of the time constraints the project is facing in an email to Bob Isaacson, Executive Director of the Office of Business Finance at DEED. In his email, Chladek noted that the City of Rushford is “completely built out” and can only grow to the west. Getting to the west development a half-mile away from the city down Highway 30 is not within the ability of either the city itself or a developer to finance.

“Without housing development, we won’t be able to house the workforce needed for future business sustainability and growth in Rushford and the surrounding area,” Chladek said in his email. “We completed a housing study, which shows there is demand. We also have a new school facility, so we know that demand is increasing.

“The development is located along Highway 30, which MnDOT plans to rebuild all the way into downtown Rushford. A decision about the sizing of utility lines in the city to support future growth will need to be made soon for planning purposes. Our ability to extend utility lines to the west to support future growth will likely be a key factor in whether or not the city finances larger line sizes internally. We’re at a critical juncture.

“We feel that a change in policy now to support our housing development goals will positively position the city to sustain and grow its economy long-term,” Chladek added.

Downtown Music

One of the EDA’s goals in their downtown development plan involved helping businesses sponsor music in the downtown area. The EDA is investing sponsorship dollars into a musical event later this summer The EDA is getting sponsorship help from local businesses as well, including Shawnee’s, The Creamery, Stumpy’s, Il Luigi’s, and Jesse Street Java, to bring in a band called The Jimmys for a show on September 8. 

“The Jimmys are out of Madison, Wisconsin,” Chladek said. “They’re a Chicago-type blues band that’ll play from 6-9 p.m. on September 8. We’re continuing to reach out to additional sponsors to help fund the first of what we hope will be many more events over the years, and we’re pretty excited about it.

“We plan to set them up in the Sterling Pharmacy parking lot right there in downtown. Our hope is to be able to close off the street and allow folks to sit and enjoy the music. We’ve heard the message from local residents that they’d like more events in town, so here you go,” Chladek said. 

Schedule

The next regular meeting for the Rushford EDA is on Wednesday, July 11, starting at 5:30 p.m. at Rushford City Hall.