Rep. Greg Davids, Sen. Carla Nelson and Chatfield Center for the Arts advocate and Chatfield school board member F. Mike Tuohy attend the city's annual legislative forum held last Tuesday at the Chatfield Center for the Arts.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Rep. Greg Davids, Sen. Carla Nelson and Chatfield Center for the Arts advocate and Chatfield school board member F. Mike Tuohy attend the city's annual legislative forum held last Tuesday at the Chatfield Center for the Arts. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
"We're in a gray area now because they said 'We're not really sure why you don't qualify, but it has nothing to do with preservation,'" paraphrased Robert Vogel of Chatfield's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).

Vogel was speaking to those in attendance at the annual Chatfield legislative forum and shared frustrations encountered in the process of trying to obtain funding from state historic preservation entities for the continued renovation of the Chatfield Center for the Arts (CCA). Vogel said the HPC had received a letter stating authorities of the preservation entities feel the CCA is still not a worthy cause.

Vogel was one of several city representatives at the meeting, held last Tuesday evening, to which Sen. Carla Nelson and Rep. Greg Davids were invited to hear how Chatfield's various city departments, projects and businesses are faring.

The forum's agenda included topics such as local government aid (LGA), the CCA, community development, the need for regional transportation and the anticipated effects of Rochester's Destination Medical Center (DMC) initiative.

The CCA's progress was second on the agenda and Vogel and Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young shared what they know about the ongoing effort to restore the building to a new use. Young had included a page in the agenda packet that illustrated the amount of revenue the CCA has generated "in real dollars."

"This sheet lists about $1 million on a real dollar basis, as many groups rent the CCA on a private basis," he explained. "There are a lot of businesses that benefit from the operation of this place and the benefits and impact aren't just local."

Young stood and showed the gathered officials - including the legislators, Mayor Russ Smith, members of the city council, school board, Chatfield Superintendent Ed Harris, members of the Chatfield Economic Development Authority (EDA) and representatives of the local police, fire and ambulance departments - maps pinned with the places from which people had come to perform, to serve or to attend an event at the CCA.

"One of these maps represents where businesses are located that we typically do business with," he continued. "It shows clearly that it's not just Chatfield, but it impacts a lot of metro businesses we use because they're the only places to get those services."

Young cited the CCA restoration project has a $7.9 million bonding requirement and the city administration, council and others connected to the project had a nice visit with the House bonding committee and have a visit from the Senate Capital Investment Committee set for this Wednesday, Dec. 4.

Young spoke of local government aid increases, citing it's really helpful to have more LGA.

"The first $20,000 went toward the wastewater treatment plant. We think our rates are really high," he stated, adding that a "chunk" of the city's general fund is helpful in "setting up a firm financial footing for the CCA, because it takes money to operate it and keep the lights on."

Education

Harris's turn came next, and he commented that he felt the legislative session last spring was productive when it came to education, especially when the decision to fund kindergarten was made.

"We've been spending time with teacher and principal evaluations, and more time on staff development than we'd foreseen. It's a heavy workload, but of a good nature," Harris said.

He went on to discuss the difficulties the school district is encountering with providing health insurance benefits to its employees, as Chatfield probably has one of the higher premium packages around.

Davids inquired, "What happens when ObamaCare starts?"

Harris replied that the district is still "beta-testing" the implications of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on its healthcare benefit system.

EDA

Economic development's representative Chris Giesen reported, "It's been a busy year, with project after project" in Chatfield.

He listed the County Road 10 land donated to the city is not yet an industrial park, but hopes are that it will become one soon. Giesen said the city hopes to be able to accomplish this even though it returned $409,000 of a $500,000 grant to the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) because the city was unable to find the catalyst for the industrial park's development in time for the funding to be properly used.

"At the south end of town, EZ Fabrication purchased land from Tuohy and they're putting a 20,000-square-foot addition on a building there, making room for manufacturing and welding, with jobs that earn approximately $17 per hour," Giesen added. "We had a $408,000 deed investment fund loan and we hope to be able to capture about $80,000 to re-loan to other businesses."

St. Alban's Place, the street near Tuohy, is the subject of a repaving project to facilitate better access to industrial businesses there and the city also has plans to invest a $233,000 DEED grant in infrastructure changes along the Twiford-Division-Main triangle, as a national retail store is interested in building in Chatfield.

"That's the long term goal. We're still working on a purchase agreement," Giesen cited.

"DEED has been very generous to Chatfield. Also, we don't know how the Rochester sales tax will affect us, but we've started using it in the Twiford acquisition," he also said. "We'd like to figure out how to invest in a project, then turn it over and reinvest it."

Smith said, "How we reuse it is important - we want to be good stewards of the money we have."

Transportation

Young addressed the topic of regional transportation, or transportation available to everyone, more than just commuters, and how it could connect Rochester with Chatfield for those visiting the Mayo Clinic who have "downtime between appointments."

He said "Chatfield has almost 1,200 jobs, almost 1,100 people leave this city to go to work elsewhere and 988 come into town to work."

Young continued, "Chatfield produces a lot of jobs - only Rochester, Dodge Center and Spring Valley have higher job counts. A lot of people see the buses leaving town and see the empty downtown buildings and think the town is dead, but it's not."

In conclusion

Nelson commended Chatfield's administration and volunteers for a "get-it-done" attitude in making the town a destination of sorts.

"Two million people visit Rochester, only 20 miles away from you. Part of DMC is seeing if people will visit outside of Rochester when they're not at their doctor appointments," she said, "and looking around right here in this building, I think there's such a community buy-in and I think that's great."

Davids and Nelson reviewed the upcoming legislative session with the forum attendees, stating the session is a bonding session and it includes possible considerations for a new Vikings stadium and a legislative office.

Nelson forecasted a "fast and furious session...bonding will be our number one job next year."

Smith promised that when the Senate Capital Investment Committee arrives this week, "We'll put our best foot forward to show that the CCA is worth it."