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Living on St. Cloud’s East Side my entire life, I’ve grown skeptical of city plans to redevelop St. Cloud’s East Side. When Mayor Kleis starts talking about redeveloping the East Side, I get extra skeptical. In this article, Mayor Kleis outdid himself. The article says that “The biggest redevelopment boon would be a Northstar line extension”, adding that that “would be the single greatest catalyst for East Side development.” The station where Northstar would stop at is less than a half-mile from my house. Anyone that thinks that that’s a catalyst to redeveloping St. Cloud is either lying or stupid.

When Kleis said that this “is doable, and the Legislature can do that,” my first reaction was to ask what type of drugs he was using. The East Side of St. Cloud will forever be a blue collar part of town. Within a quarter mile of that train stop are Red’s Electric, Val’s, Handyman’s, a couple junk yards, one of which was abandoned 5 years ago, an old brick building that looks like it’s been abandoned for 50 years and a day-old bread store. The frightening thought is that that’s the upscale part of the area.

To do anything retail- or office-related there would require tens of millions of dollars to just make a dent. Then the question becomes what would go into this real estate. Here’s the reply:

The plan recommended the city encourages artisan workshops and artist residences to move into the district by establishing incentives for redeveloping “make/live” space for artists and organizations.

Seriously? This is proof that this city desperately needs new leadership. To show how unserious this plan is, consider this information:

But East Side redevelopment captured only about one page of the document, which is upward of 160 pages. The plan’s catalyst sites were mostly near downtown on the west side of the river.

Then there’s this quote from Mayor Kleis:

The river flows through our city. It doesn’t divide the east and the west.

Actually, Dave, the Mississippi does divide the city. It has since I was born 61 years ago. This is the view looking east down East St. Germain Street:

In less than a mile, there are 2 major sets of railroad tracks as you look east. There are 2 other railroad crossings if you look north from St. Germain. As you pass Lincoln Ave. heading east, there’s a mix of a gas station, some homes and Highway 10.

If you think that I’m being a bit pessimistic, consider the fact that that’s before we talk about fixing the properties on Lincoln Ave. north of East St. Germain St. If you don’t fix that, you’ve just spent a ton of money without fixing the East Side’s problems.

What’s needed is to admit that the East Side is best suited for industrial redevelopment. Putting in cute apartments and retail shops might look nice for a couple of years but it won’t fix the underlying problem. Getting a fistful of federal grant money to put in a few cute amenities won’t change that fact.

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After writing this post about a proposal to increase affordable housing in the Greater St. Cloud area, I got a call from a loyal reader of LFR. This person highlighted the fact that St. Cloud’s economy used to be built around manufacturers like Franklin and big corporations like Fingerhut. This reader then mentioned the fact that St. Cloud’s economy today is focused on the hospitality and retail industries.

In the past, St. Cloud has made terrible choices for its economy. The Chamber of Commerce shouldn’t get off lightly, either, since they’ve frequently advocated for tourism industry bonding projects. In the end, those things changed St. Cloud from being a blue collar manufacturing town into a tourism mecca. That’s foolish because there are thousands of different tourism meccas in Minnesota.

In Jenny Berg’s article, she wrote that “Hontos said he wants a joint resolution to show interest from other cities.” He might get that resolution passed by the St. Cloud City Council but it’ll die the minute it gets to the Sartell and Sauk Rapids city councils.

Since this affordable housing project started getting publicity, talk has started about voting on a moratorium that would postpone the building of bike trails and city parks until St. Cloud attracts 5 new manufacturing companies to St. Cloud.

The liberal policies that’ve caused St. Cloud’s neighborhoods to deteriorate have led to rising crime rates, too. Mind you, many of these crimes haven’t gotten recorded but they’ve still happened. They’ve been reported. They just haven’t been recorded. We’re left with a city whose economy is like icing on a cake but without a main meal. Economies built around retailers and restaurants are like meals consisting of cake and ice cream but no meat, potatoes or gravy.

Other citizens have told me that getting things approved for construction has gotten more difficult. The City has the right official policies. They just aren’t enforced. The reason I mention this is simple. Why would a major company move to St. Cloud when crime is rising, there’s a shortage of the type of laborers that companies will need and the local economy is built around the hospitality and retail industries?

Dave Kleis has been one of the biggest cheerleaders for these policies. He’s also the chief cheerleader for the airport. He could’ve killed 2 birds with 1 stone by proposing an industrial park built right by a new regional airport. That would have a chance of gaining traction and changing the trajectory of St. Cloud’s economy. That proposal hasn’t been rejected. It’s been ignored instead.

Frankly, it’s time for new leadership in St. Cloud. St. Cloud needs someone who a) isn’t a de facto cheerleader for the Chamber of Commerce, b) doesn’t believe in crony capitalism and c) has a vision to restore St. Cloud’s identity as a blue collar All American city. I’d clean out most of the members of the City Council. I’d pretty much fire the School Board. Finally, I’d fire the SCSU president, too. It’s clear he doesn’t have a plan to turn SCSU around.

Mayor Kleis talks about reviving St. Cloud’s core neighborhoods. Those don’t get built or maintained by restaurant owners.

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Jenny Berg’s article about Monday night’s City Council meeting focused mainly on a proposed multiple city affordable housing project.

In her article, Ms. Berg wrote “Matt Glaesman, community development director, said a coalition led by United Way is working on a joint project between St. Cloud, Sartell, Sauk Rapids, St. Joseph and Waite Park where each city would work to bring an affordable housing project to its city. A joint agreement could help the cities get funding, which is highly competitive.” Later, George Hontos said “he wants a joint resolution to show interest from other cities” before the city commits to the project.

I can’t picture that happening. According to the most recent census information, the Median Household Income for Sartell is $73,872. Just 3.7% of their citizens live below the Federal Poverty Level, aka FPL. By contrast, 23.3% of St. Cloud residents live below the FPL. St. Cloud’s Median Household Income is $45,437. By comparison, the MHI in Sauk Rapids is $48,410. 21.5% of Sauk Rapids residents live below the FPL.

What incentive does Sartell have to join this coalition? They’re projecting an image of being an upscale community. It’s in Sartell’s best interests to be seen as a growing community filled with upper middle class citizens. There isn’t a visible upside to supporting affordable housing in their community because that would bring property values down. Further, affordable housing might lead to their city getting refugees. They’ve been trying to avoid that.

As usual, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis tried spinning the project:

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said a “win-win” could be building new affordable housing and moving tenants from HRA-owned Empire Apartments to the new housing. The existing Empire site, which is a catalyst site in the city’s comprehensive plan, could then be used for redevelopment. The city would be required to relocate Empire Apartment residents if the building is removed, Kleis said. A new building could house those residents plus meet additional demand for affordable housing.

“It could be a pretty significant win,” he said.

Kleis sees the grant money and little else. I’d love hearing him explain how this would be a win for Sartell.

Willie Jett, the superintendent of St. Cloud schools, “plans to present a draft of a plan to the school board at its Aug. 9 workshop.” Everything you need to know about Jett’s proposal is found late in the article. That’s where it says “The proposed plan also recommends Jett and St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis form an advisory task force to work with the planner, city and school district. The advisory task force’s meetings would be open to the public. Von Korff emphasized the task force’s role would be to provide advice to the city and district but it would not be a decision-making power.”

After I led the media portion of the Vote No campaign in 2015 and after the bonding referendum was soundly defeated, the St. Cloud Times wrote an editorial criticizing the School Board for not collecting enough public input. In that editorial, they insisted that more public input sessions be held. Shortly thereafter, the Board announced a listening tour, which actually turned into a presentation tour with limited input from the public and large PowerPoint presentations from the Board. (Surprising, right?)

Last week, after the Board announced that they wouldn’t repurpose Tech to become the District offices and welcoming center, they announced the purchase of the Minnesota School of Business for $5,600,000. It isn’t coincidence that the School Board is forming another advisory board. This advisory board will have little actual input into the School Board’s final decision.

This is just the Board’s latest dog-and-pony show. This Board isn’t trustworthy. Willie Jett, Al Dahlgren and Jerry von Korff are hoping that we won’t notice that they’re playing the same game. They’re hoping we’ll be satisfied with more bureaucratic sleight-of-hand.

Dr. Jett, Messrs. Dahlgren and von Korff, you aren’t trustworthy. This sham won’t repair your reputations. It will only enhance your reputations as being untrustworthy.

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After reading this article, I’m almost mad enough to throw the entire ISD742 school board through a brick wall. They’ve proven beyond all doubt that they aren’t trustworthy. That means they shouldn’t be given the authority to handle large-scale financial matters.

Last winter and spring, I frequently said that the School Board’s Advisory Board was a PR scheme. This article proves that I was right. I’ll return to that theme in a little bit. First, here’s what touched off the firestorm. According Ms. Berg’s reporting, “Several high-profile leaders are urging St. Cloud school board to reconsider a plan to purchase the former Minnesota School of Business building for the district offices and welcome center. The leaders were part of an advisory group created by Superintendent Willie Jett charged with finding solutions for the fate of Technical High School if a referendum to build a new high school passed last November.”

Jett’s plan all along was to win over a higher percentage of voters who live within walking distance of Tech HS. Those living near Tech HS raised serious objections to abandoning the neighborhood. The easiest way to get past that sticking point was to appoint an advisory council that could be ignored once the votes were counted. That’s what appears to have happened:

Kleis said Tuesday the plan to purchase the Waite Park building instead of repurpose Tech surprised him. “All the discussion from the neighborhood and the district was that the administration would be in that historic Tech building,” he said. “Having that commitment was something I knew was positively received by the neighborhood and I think influenced the outcome of the referendum.” Kleis said the advisory committee was formed after a referendum failed in 2015, and members spent hours at listening sessions trying to gather input and find solutions.

Check out the School Board’s double-talk:

Jerry Von Korff, school board vice chair, responded to the letter by stating the plan to move administration to Tech proved “unworkable” because the rehabilitation cost estimates are out of line with the district’s means and no one else has stepped forward with a viable plan to develop the rest of the building or land. Meanwhile, the district could purchase the former Minnesota School of Business building at about half the cost of moving to Tech, he stated.

“We sit on the board as fiduciaries to fulfill the constitutional obligation to educate the children of our respective communities. As much as we respect your recommendation to make the move to Tech work, it has become clear that the plan is unworkable,” Von Korff stated. “We’re not looking at the (Minnesota School of Business) alternative because we don’t care about you, the (mayor), or the neighborhood, or the (city). The plan to move into Tech is unworkable, and if we were to spend more than ($12 million) to execute this plan, we would be justly crucified for wasting education.

Von Korff is the school board’s vice chair. Here’s what Al Dahlgren, the school board’s chair, said:

Board Chair Al Dahlgren said the superintendent and school board never promised the district would move into a repurposed Tech. “The recommendation of the committee was taken under advisement and was presented as one possible option,” he stated in a response to the advisory group’s letter. “No action was ever taken by the board and no person has the authority to make decisions or promises on behalf of the board. It would take an action by the majority of the board to do so. That did not occur here and if there is any misunderstanding within the committee, it is certainly that — a misunderstanding.”

Let’s be clear about something. While there wasn’t a formal contract signing, the people on that advisory committee considered that a formality. To hear von Korff and Dahlgren say that repurposing Tech wouldn’t work or that they never committed to it is the epitome of slipperiness.

It’s time to throw these bums out. That’s what’s supposed to happen to people you can’t trust.

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One of the things that stuck out like a sore thumb at Monday night’s St. Cloud City Council’s Study Session was Mayor Dave Kleis’s evasiveness. Let’s start by saying the study session focused lots of time on a study on the future viability of St. Cloud Airport, the building of a regional airport authority and whether it’s necessary for there to be council representation on the airport task force. Mayor Kleis explained that the City Council was “the conduit” for the study. Mayor Kleis explained that the St. Cloud area county commissioners will read the study, then decide whether they’d want to form a regional airport authority.

Initially, Councilman Hontos questioned whether the City Council would be represented on the task force that conducts the study. The airport task force must get it right when it comes to hiring a specialized airport consultant. When Des Moines become a regional airport authority, they hired Don Smithey.

At this point, St. Cloud doesn’t have a plan, much less a set of goals it wants to achieve. Certainly, St. Cloud wants daily air service to Chicago but that’s pretty much its only goal. It’s indisputable that airports can have a significant economic impact. It’s equally indisputable that, at this point, the economic impact runs in the red for the St. Cloud taxpayers. It’s questionable whether Mayor Kleis has provided specific details as to how a regional airport authority will impact St. Cloud’s economy. At this point, I don’t know that this task force has developed a detailed business plan for the airport.

Until this task force receives that type of input and until the business community and the counties start working together, there’s ample reason to question whether another study will produce better results. It’s difficult to know whether the City of St. Cloud, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce, the County Commissioners, the educational community (SCSU) and our legislative delegation have started working together.

What’s disturbing is that almost $75,000,000 worth of local, state and federal monies have gone for improvements to the St. Cloud airport. In addition to that, St. Cloud has frequently gotten grants to conduct studies to get daily air service to St. Cloud.

It’s more than disappointing that, in over 10 years, St. Cloud hasn’t put together a solid business plan that’s attractive to airlines. That leads me to question St. Cloud’s viability or whether they haven’t put the right personnel in the right positions.

Mayor Kleis’s argument that St. Cloud shouldn’t have to shoulder the cost of putting a regional airport authority together is accurate but it isn’t persuasive. What incentive do other mayors and county commissioners have in sharing those costs? St. Cloud essentially volunteered to pay for putting the airport association together. Further, the city hasn’t put a viable business plan together for their airport. Why shouldn’t the other cities let him foot the bill?

The first 75 minutes of this video are sickening:

Of particular note is Mayor Kleis’s evasiveness on the issue of representation on the board. Is that because Kleis knows this study doesn’t have much of a chance of producing different results than previous studies have produced? Mayor Kleis has used taxpayer-funded grants for other studies. Thus far, the studies have been portraits in futility.

I’d love to see St. Cloud develop its airport. At this point, though, I don’t have much confidence in that happening.

This St. Cloud Times editorial shows how out of touch the Times is with St. Cloud voters. The editorial opens by saying “Driven by residents’ input after last fall’s defeat of the bond referendum to build a new Technical High School, St. Cloud schools Superintendent Willie Jett is welcoming a reasonable potential solution to one of the biggest concerns residents have raised: What happens to the current Tech campus?”

That’s nothing but hot air. I’m betting that few people asked about what would happen to the “Tech campus” if the referendum passes this fall. (It won’t.) I’m betting that even fewer people care that “the district is willing to keep a school district presence there.” That’s a peripheral issue at best. Most people want to know if building a new school is necessary They’re questioning that because spending money on a new Tech HS will cause their property taxes to skyrocket.

The people that’ve contacted me or that’ve spoken out on this want to know if this is the best option going forward. Simply put, they aren’t certain it is. That’s why they defeated it last fall. The School Board has spent the past year making the same unpersuasive arguments that it made before. People want answers to specific important questions. They don’t care about answers to peripheral questions. This is their problem:

District leaders are open to the recommendation from a very high-powered panel that the district move its administrative offices and Welcome Center into the portions of Tech built in 1917 and 1938.

This “high-powered panel is just as out-of-touch with voters as the School Board. It’s a case of the blind leading the blind. This high-powered panel has spent years not listening to people. Now they’re expected to hear what people find most important? This high-powered panel couldn’t find the American mainstream if they had a GPS and a year’s supply of gasoline.

The plan came from a panel made up of outgoing school board member Dennis Whipple; St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis; Mike Gohman, president of W. Gohman Construction; Patti Gartland, president of Greater St. Cloud Development Corp.; Teresa Bohnen, president of St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce; and Henry Gruber, a longtime St. Cloud business owner.

I know these people. Of this panel, I’d only trust Mike Gohman and Henry Gruber. The rest, I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw them if I had 2 broken arms and a bad back.

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The very first high school football game I went to was in September of 1970. The game was played at Clark Field. It’s still the best football field I’ve ever watched a game at. Part of that is because it isn’t a multi-purpose field. Thanks to the fact that there isn’t a track oval, fans sitting in the front row sit only 25 feet from the playing field.

For the last few years, the school powers-that-be have tried to scrap Clark Field. This St. Cloud Times article indicates that the Times Editorial Board supports scrapping the best football field in Minnesota. I have a simple response for St. Cloud Superintendent of Schools Willie Jett and the St. Cloud Times Editorial Board: over my dead body. This is war.

Admittedly, I’m hopping on the proverbial bandwagon after others have built the Clark Field bandwagon. The Friends of Clark Field are “a grassroots group formed to save its namesake next to Technical High School.” According to the Times editorial, “neither the school district nor the city are embracing the vision of the Friends group.” That’s part of the Times’ rationalization for not supporting the maintaining of Clark Field. Another part of their rationalization is that the Times just assumes that a new Tech High School will soon be built, “complete with its own modern-day, multi-use stadium.”

The Times shouldn’t make that assumption. Last fall, the School Board’s Vote Yes campaign lost by a resounding margin. When the dust settled, 8,460 people rejected the bonding referendum while 7,393 people voted to approve the referendum. Since that vote, the dynamics have shifted significantly.

The bonding referendum that was soundly defeated called for $167,000,000 in total bonding, with $113,800,000 of that money going into building a new Tech High School. Plenty of the people who voted no voted against the referendum because they were skeptical of the costs. I wrote this post to confirm the skeptics’ beliefs:

Those numbers are really round, so it’s hard to take them seriously,” said Murphy, who worked for architectural firms in Minnesota and Colorado before becoming a space planner for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. “The building is 100 years old so it’s going to need some help. But if there are real structural problems, there shouldn’t be anybody in the building. If the cafeteria has major structural issues, why are they using it? They’d be putting the kids at risk. There’s a difference between structural problems and things that are inconvenient or don’t look good, like floor tiles popping up.”

That’s just part of Ms. Murphy’s and Ms. VanderEyk’s argument. There’s also this:

During the campaign to pass the Tech bonding referendum, the ISD 742 school board said it would cost between $85,800,000 and $96,800,000 to temporarily fix Tech for 5-10 years. When Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk toured the facility, they took notes on what was in disrepair and needed fixing. Since they’re both architects, they’re qualified to determine what’s in need of repair, what’s structurally deficient and what’s in good repair.

Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk are both Tech alums so they’d like to preserve the building if that’s possible. That’s why they took their notes to a contractor to see how much it would actually cost to repair the existing Tech campus. Saying that their estimate came in at less than $97,000,000 is understatement. It came in at $15,696,000, which is approximately $100,000,000 less than the School Board said it would cost to build a brand new Tech High School.

Simply put, the $167,000,000 bonding bill is dead. ‘Trimming it’ to $100,000,000 is probably dead, too.

It’s time for Mayor Kleis, the Times and the St. Cloud School Board to start thinking in terms of refurbishing the existing Tech High School. There’s no reason not to save Tech High School. There’s no justification for raising people’s taxes that dramatically. Sarah Murphy and Claire VanderEyk have given voters a glimpse of what’s possible when competent people are put in charge of project. They’ve provided a picture of the difference between competent experts from the private sector and bungling politicians with ‘a vision’.

It’s time to save Clark Field. It’s time to refurbish Tech High School. It’s that simple.

The purpose of this op-ed, written by MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle and Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck, is to criticize Jim Knoblach. In the interest of full disclosure, Jim represents me in the legislature. He’s also one of the smartest policy makers in Minnesota. But I digress.

While attacking Chairman Knoblach, Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck made a major mistake by essentially admitting that extending Northstar will be expensive, not just in terms of building it, but also in operating it. Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck admitted it when they wrote “Building out the line involves some up-front costs, including upgrading the St. Cloud Amtrak station to make it ADA compliant; upgrading railroad crossings in St. Cloud; and adding a third track at the Big Lake station to allow trains to stop there. These capital costs along are estimated at up to $43 million, and this doesn’t include the additional funding to operate the line day-in and day-out.”

Why should we extend Northstar at such an expensive price when there’s already shuttle service from St. Cloud to Big Lake? I suspect that the operating costs of the shuttle are less than the operating costs for Northstar. I’m certain, however, that maintaining the shuttle service won’t require $43,000,000 in “capital costs.”

Question for Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck: how many years could the shuttle be operated with those $43,000,000 in capital costs?

Stop that train. Stop that train. It isn’t that the $43,000,000 is the only major financial outlay:

Our $43 million cost estimate also does not include the cost of acquiring right-of-way from BNSF Railway.

Here’s another question for Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck: How much will acquiring that right-of-way from BNSF cost?

Here’s a question for citizens: shouldn’t Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck lay out those costs in an op-ed in a major newspaper?

We want to work with area legislators to find a way to bring Northstar to St. Cloud residents. But that work has to first start by acknowledging the realities and the costs. Minnesotans deserve a real proposal.

The question residents should ask Knoblach is: Does he still support the extension when faced with the reality of the cost?

Actually, the question citizens should ask is whether extending Northstar is worth it at that price. As a lifelong resident of St. Cloud, there isn’t a great uprising of support for extending Northstar. It’s true that a handful of public officials are pushing it but that’s pretty much it.

We don’t need to spend $50,000,000 or more just to give Gov. Dayton another ribbon-cutting ceremony to attend. I don’t speak for Chairman Knoblach but I’ll speak for myself. Spending 10s of millions of dollars on this project is a waste of money.

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Check out the opening paragraph of the St. Cloud Times Our View editorial:

St. Cloud has acquired a jewel of a park — in need of refurbishing.

The City of St. Cloud didn’t “acquire” George Friedrich Park. They fleeced SCSU President Potter when they talked him into swapping a beautifully wooded 50-acre plot even up for 5 acres of land that can’t be developed. The St. Cloud Times said that a) the Friedrich Park land is worth $328,000 and that the land just south of the National Hockey Center is worth $294,000. According to my calculator, that means the barren wasteland south of the Hockey Center is worth $58,800/acre and that the beautifully wooded Friedrich Park is worth $6,560/acre.

Does anyone seriously think that barren wasteland is worth 9 times more per acre than a beautifully wooded lot?

At least the Times took time to indict President Potter’s mishandling of the Park:

Improvements to Friedrich Park have been talked about for years. The land swap resulted from a collaboration between Kleis and St. Cloud State University President Earl H. Potter III. Kleis has added an important chapter to his legacy. His knowledge of the history of the community and the park is exceptional. But to his credit, he turned the knowledge into action.

Let’s assume for this discussion that acquiring Friedrich Park adds “an important chapter to” Kleis’ legacy. Wouldn’t it be equally true that refurbishing and restoring Friedrich Park would’ve added to President Potter’s legacy? The same lessons about St. Cloud’s history would still be there.

It’s true, though, that the Friedrich Park fleecing will be part of President Potter’s legacy. It’ll rank right up there with his lease with the Wedum Foundation, his hiring the Earthbound Media Group to rebrand the University’s image and his paying the City of St. Cloud to police their city.

Thus far, SCSU has lost $7,700,000 on the Wedum Foundation lease. Additionally, SCSU paid EMG more than $400,000 to rebrand the University. Since the time of the rebranding, enrollment has continued its decline and SCSU’s revenues have dried up. As for President Potter paying $720,000 for 3 years of policing, the injustice is that SCSU is paying for police officers that the City should’ve paid for.

Adding Friedrich Park to those financial disasters just makes President Potter’s ‘legacy’ one of financial foolishness.

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