On March 26, Eric Ostern of Spring Grove took an oath of office, joining the Spring Grove Economic Development Authority (EDA). He will serve the remainder of Steve Jennings' term, which ends April 1, 2016.

Election of officers held

The board elected officers for 2012. Howard Deters will again serve as president. Ostern was elected vice president. City Administrator Theresa Coleman will serve as secretary.

The other two officer positions, treasurer and assistant treasurer, were not up for renewal this year. They are held by Mayor Saundra Solum and Coleman, respectively.

Budget set for the year

The 2012 budget was approved. The EDA has $184,224 in total income, including $144,594 from the city of Spring Grove for the SWIM Center lease, which all goes towards the bond payment.

Building rents of $11,100, interest of deposits ($615) and operating contributions from the city ($27,000) make up the rest.

Budgeted expenses, besides the pool bond, include $10,300 for the 2002 revenue bond on the building rented to Winneshiek Medical Center Rehab & Sports Medicine (on Main Street), $15,000 for marketing, $1,106 for insurance (on the two EDA owned properties), $4,000 for building repairs, $3,200 for real estate taxes, $1,700 for utilities (incubator building), and various small items such as postage ($100).

The budget shows a projected shortfall of $249.

Goals announced for 2012

Commissioners adopted goals for 2012. They include assisting small businesses before, during and after reconstruction (Main Street/Highway 44), transfer of ownership of Spring Grove Commercial Park lots, exploring options for small business incubator space, encouraging development that quickly expands the tax base, "staying positive" and "pursuing lifecycle housing opportunities."

The goals were accepted without discussion, although the Main Street Marketing portion of the meeting addressed some reconstruction issues, and Commercial Park ideas were brought up later in the meeting.

'Back door' date is Aug. 4

The group set a tentative date of Aug. 4 for a practice run for Main Street businesses to try out the "back door promotion" that will route customers through off-alley entrances while construction is going on in 2013.

Robin Bartell brought a brochure she is developing for business owners, called "Helping Your Business Thrive During the Highway 44 Construction Project."

Commissioner J.C. Nerstad suggested printing 100 of the pamphlets, which outline how businesses can sign up to take part in collaborative marketing, and it explains specifics of the planned marketing blitz.

Bartell took suggestions for additions to the document and offered to bring the brochure back next month. The EDA is scheduled to meet again on April 24.

HBC membership discussed

Valencia Gaddis of Southeast Minnesota Historic Bluff Country (HBC) met with commissioners. She spoke about her organization and marketing in general.

Gaddis said HBC is linked to "Explore Minnesota," a popular tourism promotion organization.

She suggested that Spring Grove join HBC and line up specific events, such as storytelling in the park, which HBC could promote.

Commissioners discussed ideas with Gaddis, but no one made a motion to become a member of HBC.

Campground plans reviewed

The board looked at two campground plans sent by Neil Britton, civil engineer with Widseth Smith Nolting. Both incorporated two entrances for a proposed facility next to the SWIM Center.

Britton was directed to continue work on the feasibility study, using a plan with one entrance off Fifth Ave. NE and another on the southeast corner of EDA land adjoining the pool. That plan had 34 sites.

Motocross racing approved

Commissioners approved a request for motocross racing on EDA land in 2012 with the same terms as last year. The organization that holds the races will need to provide proof of liability insurance to the city before holding events.

That brought up the question of the lots at the Spring Grove Commercial Park. Members noted that in about 2-1/2 years, the EDA will begin paying property taxes on unsold lots.

"We probably could get them all moved tomorrow for free, but I don't think we should do that," Deters said.

Solum reported that Houston County EDA coordinator Jordan Wilms is helping to draw up the framework for a development agreement that the SGEDA can use for prospective developers at the Commercial Park.

If the EDA wants to give away a lot or sell it at a discount, the agreement would be there to guarantee that the property becomes a tax-paying asset for the city.

"Usually when EDAs create these things, they create an ordinance," councilmember Robert Vogel noted. "The EDA needs a development plan."

The lots average about an acre each, he added.

"I also think we could give them away, but could we sell them for $5,000?" Nerstad asked (lot prices were originally set at $15,000). "If you want an employer, you'll need to offer incentives... It all depends on what they build."

"We definitely need to reduce the cost out there," Ostern said. "We're not going to get $100,000 back or whatever the EDA originally paid for the land right away."

"Half our money will start going to pay property taxes," Coleman said.

Solum told Coleman to continue working with Wilms on a development agreement as the first step towards finding a new way to market the park.

"It's a tough decision to figure out what to do," Nerstad concluded.