Posted by: Dan Bergeson | January 25, 2011

My Next Fund-Raising Project

Winter Walk, 2009

I told myself that when I succeeded in replacing the worn out downtown holiday decorations, I could  focus on building a bandshell in Northfield. I organized a committee to work on the holiday project in 2008 and by mid-2009 we had achieved our goal. $20,000 later we had banners and snowflakes in place for the 2009 holiday season. It was a magnificent outpouring of civic pride and commitment . . . and in the midst of a serious economic downturn! Everyone who gave more than a penny to assist in this effort deserves an enormous round of applause.

That was more than 12 months ago. We’re currently enjoying the second season of these decorations. They’re as fresh and lovely as they were when we debuted them over a year ago.

Now it’s time to consider a different goal.

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Posted by: Dan Bergeson | November 27, 2010

Denver Streetscape

Mind you, this is one post where I’m not going to be critical. I recently visited Denver, CO and was impressed with the streetscape elements I experienced in the downtown area. We were going to visit a local bookstore, The Tattered Cover, and parked across the street at  Union Station, the rail hub of the city. Outside the terminal we found this wonderful array of bikes for rent.

A new idea for me is the concept of bike lockers. It seems so sensible to provide lockers to protect bikes from the elements and the potential for theft for those who ride regularly. It would be more convenient to provide indoor, secure bike parking, but if that’s not possible, this is the next best solution and Denver already has it.

Traveling up and down 16th St. in front of the bookstore was a fleet of buses with bike racks and kneeling technology so that riders don’t have to step up to enter the bus. Wonderful stuff.

The tree grates in the sidewalk were at least a foot above the topsoil in which the trees were planted so the possiblity that they could be disturbed by trunk or root growth seemed very remote. What a refreshing idea!

We saw good signage, kiosks, and sidewalk furniture and flower pots for aesthetic appeal. I don’t know the whole Denver story by a long shot, but the downtown streetscape elements were OK by me.

 

Posted by: Dan Bergeson | November 5, 2010

The Left Over Bits

There seems to be no end to the stuff that gets forgotten and then “we hope nobody notices.” Take this sign, for example. It sits on a property on the north edge of town and is left over from a supper club called “Florella’s” that was on the site in the 50s and 60s. There has been no restaurant here for at least 40 years and yet, this forlorn former sign is still upright, signifying nothing and looking pathetic. Why hasn’t anyone removed it?

Next door to this sign is a former drive-in restaurant which has also been non-existent for about the same number of years and yet, the corrugated metal roof which sheltered the cars waiting for and enjoying their food is still there. It serves absolutely no purpose and looks absurd, but I guess that doesn’t bother anyone but me. Oh well.

A redevelopment site called “The Crossing” had tremendous promise about five years ago. Then the real estate market went south and the property tanked and was foreclosed. We’re left with a half-occupied residential building, a half-occupied commercial building, and half of the  total property that is still undeveloped. The undeveloped part is not well-cared for and there are some things about it that I don’t understand. What I don’t understand is why the city doesn’t seem to have any leverage to get whomever owns the undeveloped parcels to at least keep them tidy. It doesn’t seem like rocket science to make that happen, but again, doesn’t anyone but me notice or care?

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Posted by: Dan Bergeson | October 24, 2010

Flood Cleanup Takes Time

In my previous post, the cleanup from the 2010 Cannon River Flood had just started. It will be a month tomorrow since the 36-hour rain event created record flooding in the Cannon River watershed and the recovery effort is well underway.

Downtown Northfield had several businesses that sustained flood damage and one that was totaled by the water. The commercial/residential development north of 2nd Street know as the Crossing had a significant amount of sand deposited on the river bank and in the plain just behind the main building.

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Posted by: Dan Bergeson | October 13, 2010

Hazmat suits in Bridge Square?

OK, I’ve been AWOL from this blog for longer than I care to admit, but I’ll admit it if it will make you feel better than I feel. At any rate, here’s what I want to talk about:

Last Sunday I was rolling through downtown Northfield and spotted this guy in a yellow hazmat suit. There was yellow caution tape around Bridge Square and he was spraying something on the ground in the square.


 

 

 

 

There’s been a lot of unique activity in town since the beginning of the Flood of 2010, but most of it has been right on the river or in buildings within about 20 yards of the river. When I asked the guy’s colleague what he was doing, he said that they were spraying a sanitizing agent on the sidewalk. I didn’t question that until I walked away and then it occurred to me that the water never got as high as Bridge Square. I didn’t get to ask the next obvious question “How Come?” because they drove away.

Before they left, I was able to ask them about all the silt I’ve seen deposited along the ground where the river went beyond it’s  channel. Specifically, I’m curious about how the practice fields at Carleton College will get relieved of the 2″-8″ of dirt that currently covers the grass. The guys from Eco-Blast told me that they will use high pressure hoses to put the silt into solution and they suck it up and haul it away. This I’ve got to see. Haul it in what and deposit it where?

Posted by: Dan Bergeson | November 24, 2007

Northfield’s economic brew glass: half empty or half full?

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There’s a lot of consternation right now about Northfield’s economic climate and short-term future. Are we seeing a gain in tax revenue or a loss? If it’s a gain, is the growth driving it as robust as it could be? If it’s a loss, is that due to the vagaries of the market or is there a more direct cause that can be identified in the actions of people or organizations? There’s a lively debate occurring about the relative value of encouraging the expansion of the commercial/industrial base or expanding the retail and service sector. Which strategy can be accomplished more quickly? Which one requires the greatest commitment of public investment?

I’m not going to comment here on which of these I might favor or what kind of mix of efforts might work best in the short term, although I certainly have opinions. Most of the recent nattering by area nabobs has focused on how bad things are or soon will be and I can’t deny that’s usually my outlook. But since it’s Thanksgiving, I wondered if it’s possible to find anything on the Northfield economic landscape to feel good about.

What if we tallied a list of new and expanded businesses in the area not over the last 12 months, but over several years? Yes, it’s true that College City Beverage moved to Dundas and that Coach Crafters is moving to Florida. It’s also true that Division Street Dentists left downtown (but stayed in Northfield) and Community Resource Bank took 90% of their operation out of downtown (but stayed in Northfield).

But look at all of the expansions that have occurred or are in the process of occurring in the city. Bierman’s Home Furnishings and Floor Coverings opened a second store so that their flooring business could be supported better. Allina Clinic expanded their footprint to accommodate broader specialization and more customers. Northfield Montessori built a spanking new facility to more than double the number of students and families they serve. Speech Gear moved because they needed more square footage as they added jobs and moved into a larger building. Tires Plus was forced by circumstances into relocating (within the city), but clearly could have done so several years earlier as their business grew.

Cannon Valley Printing stayed in place, but added an addition to support the growth in their business. Rob Martin’s Farmer’s Insurance agency changed locations and shifted from a leased office model to an owner-occupied one. (There have been numerous businesses that have gone to this model which I think is a a sign of a healthy market). First National Bank of Northfield is building a branch bank and Cannon Valley Vet Clinic is remodeling their facility. In addition, the principals of that business, the Stroebel-Werner Partnership, are investing millions in an pharmaceutical manufacturing plant on the premises. Northfield Hospital, Three Links Care Center, and the Northfield Retirement Center have all added extensively to their campuses.

My unscientific survey tells me that the list of new and expanding businesses is longer than the list of closed businesses or those that have relocated outside of the city. The time to send up the flares is when this ratio is reversed.

One really has to take the long view when assessing whether or not a market is growing, stagnant or declining. It’s challenging to do this in the midst of transitions which involve geographic shifts one doesn’t want. There’s the emotion of the moment and the prognositication that there will be a domino effect amongst the remaining businesses. That certainly is possible, but is by no means certain and the best course of action in my view is to fill the gaps and continue to work toward making the overall business climate as healthy and strong as possible.

Posted by: Dan Bergeson | September 23, 2007

Railroads vs. Trucks: Was dismantling the railroads a good idea?

I’m biking as much as possible these days, although it’s never enough. As I travel paved county and state roads, I’m keenly aware of the size and frequency of large trucks on any given stretch of road. There are roads I avoid for this reason because they border on suicidal for cyclists.

semi truck on the highway

No amount of biking, however, could produce the incontrovertible, visceral evidence of the volume of truck traffic on the North American roads of the 21st century as standing on the side of I-35 for two hours. Yesterday, my colleagues and I were cleaning up our portion of the highway for our fall Adopt-a-Highway commitment. Believe me, the trucks are large, loud and frightening when it’s up close and personal like that. And this was a Saturday morning!

With all of the weeping and gnashing of teeth recently over the state of Minnesota’s roads and bridges (all of it justified, in my opinion), I keep wondering how it is that we got into this mess. It seems obvious (at least to me) that if the volume of 2- and 3-axle trucks was reduced on the road system, maintenance of the system would be easier and cheaper and the safety of the public wouldn’t be constantly put at risk. But then, how would all of the goods of our consumer-based economy get to market?

 

steam enginesteam enginesteam engine

It’s no secret that long before over-the-road truck transport became the preferred method of interstate commercial distribution in this country, the railroads performed that function. And we know the story of the rise of the internal combustion engine and the dismantling of the railroads that resulted from the growth of the automobile and truck market. But the wholesale dismantling of the railroad infrastructure (the rails) was extrememely shortsighted, in my view, and we’re now paying the price for that poor choice on our highways.

It seems highly unlikely that any entity, public or private, will ever lay down the thousands of miles of track that were ripped up or abandoned in the 20th century, but if we would at least develop a transportation strategy that diversifies our options for both movement of people and distribution of goods, it would be better for the future. Today’s StarTribune has an editorial on this topic that’s worth reading. The specific facet of transporation being discussed there is traffic congestion and the state of that urban problem in the Twin Cities. The title is “The Band-aids are running out.”

We should work on not just repairing our roads and bridges, but on finding alternate paths to carry the load. Continuing to retrofit existing roads with additional lanes will never be the long-term solution to our transportation dilemma.

Posted by: Dan Bergeson | September 21, 2007

Oles vs. Lions? You make the call

I’ll admit; I’ve been AWOL from this blog for weeks. Sorry is all I can offer, although I’m not sure I was missed.

At any rate, I’ve been wondering for years now why the St. Olaf College team name changed from Lions to Oles. When my parents were students in the 1940s (yeah, that’s a few years ago), the name was definitely Lions. You can look it up in the Manitou Messenger. Even when I was a student in the early 70s, at least the athletic teams were called Lions. But now, everything having to do with collective Ole activity is lumped together under the moniker “Oles”. I think the homogenization is unappealing.

Ole the LionWhy are they called Oles when there’s a mascot walking around in a lion suit? If the lion’s name is Ole, I get that.”Ole the Lion”. I just don’t see by extension that the team members or the teams should be called Oles. “The St. Olaf Lions” is so much more romantic, dramatic, just goldarn’ interesting. “Oles” is mundane. Sorry. I realize that this is a minor issue on a global scale, but it’s bugged me for a long time. Humor my ignorance and confusion, OK? I’m done now.

Full disclosure: however one defines it, I’m an Ole, class of ’74.

Posted by: Dan Bergeson | August 1, 2007

Wow, that was quick!

In my June 8 post about a vacant Northfield building, I wondered why no one was actively promoting the sale of the property. Outside of a listing on the Chamber of Commerce website, there’s nothing. You couldn’t tell by driving by the outside of the building that it was for sale.

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However, when I went by there on my Saturday bike ride, there was a freshly planted Premier Realty sign. I can’t claim credit for this apparent emergence from MLS limbo, but I will express excitement at the prospects and the hope that a buyer will emerge that will be a perfect fit for the property. In addition to this opportunity, there are 26 or 27 acres across Armstrong road that are owned by the same company and there’s a matching for sale sign on that parcel as well.

Come on down!

Posted by: Dan Bergeson | July 29, 2007

Speaking of city limits, where should they be?

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Over the past year or more, the Northfield EDA and others have spent a lot of time debating the need for expanding the commercial tax base of the city. Their preferred method for doing so is to create a new industrial/office park somewhere on the fringe of the city. Various methods are available for doing this including annexation and/or land purchases from private landowners. This is expensive and requires adding utility infrastructure if none exists (making it even more expensive). Sites frequently mentioned are on the western and northwestern boundaries of Northfield.

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I’m not against this goal, but wonder if there aren’t easier, less expensive options that could be achieved first. The first among these, in my opinion, is to look to the north along HWY 3. The photo above was taken at the city limit sign on HWY 3 looking north. One is struck by the fact that there are 6-10 mature businesses outside the city limits of Northfield (but probably connected to the city’s utilities). These businesses are in Dakota County, contributing to Waterford Township’s tax base. But they are in a Northfield commercial zone. What would prevent Northfield from annexing the land on which these businesses reside and immediately increasing its commercial tax base? The deal would have to be negotiated with Waterford, but I’m guessing that we could work that out.

There may be an obvious reason why this hasn’t happened yet (it seems like a no brainer), but I haven’t heard anyone even mention the possibility after all of this discussion. Can someone help me understand this one?

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