The Crookston City Council met on Monday night and held a public hearing on a mixed-use building (here) that had been proposed to the city by Community Contractors, Dakota Commercial, and JLG Architects. The proposed building would be located on Ash Street between Robert and Fletcher Streets with apartments and commercial space.  The plan also included the option for the developer to create a new town square on the corner of Ash Street and Robert Street.

Several residents and business owners spoke during the hearing as did Craig Tweten, President of Community Contractors.  Two reoccurring concerns were safety with the proposed downtown square’s location along Highway 2 and the lack of parking in downtown Crookston. Calvin Anderson, the Aerie President of the Crookston Eagles Club, said both factors would have a negative impact on the community. “While we are committed to helping Crookston grow and are in favor of projects that do so, that adds to the tax base and population, we do not believe it should be done if it causes a negative impact to other businesses in our community, and a risk to public safety,” said Anderson. “We have dealt with not having a parking lot on our own and limited downtown parking. Any further reduction in parking around our business will cause a hardship on us and it will be extremely difficult to remain in business.”

Anderson continued, “we know that is an extremely dangerous intersection and has had a pedestrian death and many other accidents. People struck trying to cross that intersection. Semi-trucks struggle to make that corner, many times jumping the curb onto the sidewalk.”

State regulations require farmer’s markets to have coverings over their stands, said Bob Prudhomme and other retailers at the market, which is why he felt the downtown square should stay at its current location with the red barn. “We heard that they’ll build a market down there and will probably move the farmer’s market in there,” said Prudhomme. “We’re not necessarily in favor of that. In my opinion, the farmer’s market would like to stay at the red barn, it’s very good, state law has us doing things, we need to cover our vegetable, got to be in the shade, this, and that. It almost seems if we had to go downtown, we’d have to start putting up awnings and things like that because we don’t have a shed. If quite a few of our opinions if we have to start putting up awnings down there the farmer’s market may not survive and may not go. We’re hoping the red barn stays where it is, and we’re not really in favor of this downtown project. I’m speaking mostly for myself, but the talk I heard at our last meeting that was the general sense and I hope some of them come up to talk too.”

Prudhomme also added he wasn’t in favor of putting tax dollars into the project in the tough times that are currently present. It was also suggested that if the city was willing to spend more then $1 million for a downtown square at the proposed location, why not spend that money to purchase the current location and improve it. Kay Heggie, from the Prairie Skyline Foundation, said the money in the proposal could be put into restoring the old Cathedral for a community center. “I think everybody has forgotten that our sole goal with the old Cathedral is to have a community center with a stage that will allow for theater performances and whatever your heart desires that can be open in the summer and covered in the winter,” said Heggie. “I really get upset when I hear about community center over and over again as part of this deal. Furthermore, if you’ve got $1 million to spend put it on the old Cathedral, get it done. Take it to the bonding bill with your $1 million match and you’ve got your tourist attraction. You’ve got your people downtown and you don’t need all this extra stuff that’s attached to the new proposed building.”

Jeff Evers who owns several commercial real estate properties said he didn’t believe the town square the commercial space is needed because of the openings that currently exist. Evers, who also owns apartments, said he thought the proposed building was something different then what was currently available. “I think what they’re proposing building would be apartments that aren’t offered in Crookston now,” said Evers. “You don’t see the taller structures with loft, great view, or whatever. They’re investing their money, but they need incentives because the new construction cost won’t cover rent in our market here.  When they bring it to the banker, they can’t lose money. What if this works? What if they have plenty of capital to keep going and come back and say we’d like to do two more of these? We’ve changed the fabric of what’s possible.

Dan Svedarsky, a former professor in planning at UMC, also spoke about how many university employees have chosen to live in Grand Forks over the years because housing such as what was proposed was not in Crookston.  Councilman Steve Erickson said he felt parking was the major issue. “I think if you took the parking issue out of that there’d be a lot less concern about it,” said Erickson. “I think if we had the parking issue fixed we’d have a lot less issues.”

Mayor Dale Stainbrook said he appreciated the public comments. “I’m very thankful for the community input,” said Stainbrook. “We had a very good turnout tonight. I take their comments seriously about what they want and don’t want. I think it was kind of a mix on both sides. Yes, no, maybe, let’s do this instead of that. We’re going to sit back and compile all the information. It ain’t a dead issue yet but maybe there is a tweak to get the cost down and parking seemed like it was a big issue. Maybe there is some tweaking we can do there.”

The Council also passed a resolution 6-2 with Councilmen Bobby Baird and Jake Fee voting no to set the preliminary tax levy at six percent and unanimously passed the consent agenda.

The full public hearing is below –