Economic developments bring cheers and jeers in 2013

Business partners, and city and state officials broke ground in the Cedar Grove Redevelopment District for the Twin Cities at Eagan outlet mall in June.  During the ceremony, Paragon Outlet Partners announced a collection of top brand name stores to open in the mall in August of 2014.

Business partners, and city and state officials broke ground in the Cedar Grove Redevelopment District for the Twin Cities at Eagan outlet mall in June. During the ceremony, Paragon Outlet Partners announced a collection of top brand name stores to open in the mall in August of 2014.

In Eagan, 2013 was a year of progress, conflict and reflection with Cedar Grove making headway, housing plans creating division and the deaths of prominent community members.

Plans to redevelop Eagan’s Cedar Grove neighborhood started to come to fruition this past year with the ground breaking of an outlet mall, which spawned other proposed developments in the area.

Envisioned as Eagan’s gateway, the redevelopment project spans more than a decade and saw several plans, which were either revised or stalled when the recession hit in 2007.

By June the redevelopment of Cedar Grove began to progress with the construction of Paragon Outlet Mall near Highway 13 and Silver Bell Road.

Once it opens in August 2014, the 400,000-square-foot retail complex will include about 100 upscale stores, such as Coach, Puma and J. Crew.

Five acres near the mall has been reserved for possible development for other uses, such as restaurants and coffee shops.

Although there will be a large parking structure near the outlet mall as well as several parking lots, Baltimore-based Paragon Outlet Partners say they plan to create a walkable development.

The $100 million project is expected to create an estimated 400 construction jobs and 1,500 to 2,000 retail jobs upon completion.

Within hours of Paragon’s ground breaking, Apple Valley developer Stonebridge Communities submitted a proposal — which was approved by the Economic Development Authority — to purchase a city-owned 4.8-acre parcel in Cedar Grove to build a four-story apartment and retail complex.

Eagan’s historic Town Hall was severely damaged in a fire in September that police say was a result of arson. A number of artifacts stored in the building were destroyed. The city has made efforts to preserve the 100-year-old building, including shrink-wrapping it over the winter months. No arrests have been named in the incident. (File photo)

Eagan’s historic Town Hall was severely damaged in a fire in September that police say was a result of arson. A number of artifacts stored in the building were destroyed. The city has made efforts to preserve the 100-year-old building, including shrink-wrapping it over the winter months. No arrests have been named in the incident. (File photo)

The City Council unanimously approved preliminary plans in September for the upscale complex — located at 3830 Sibley Memorial Highway near Cedar Grove Boulevard and Cedar Grove Parkway.

The complex, called Flats at Cedar Grove, will include 190 market-rate rental housing units and 11,0000 square feet of commercial space below.

Once finished, the brick C-shaped building, will include fireplaces, balconies, a pool, onsite laundry facilities and underground parking, and range in price from approximately $900 for a studio to approximately $2,200 for a three-bedroom apartment.

The developer plans to construct a path from the complex to Paragon Outlet and the Cedar Grove Transit Station nearby, which pleased council members who have envisioned a walkable district.

Stonebridge wasn’t the only developer attracted by Paragon’s progress.

In December, Morrissey Hospitality Co., which manages the St. Paul Hotel, announced it plans to build a 123-room hotel next to the mall.

The $14 million project is expected to bring in just under $1 million in annual tax revenue.

The four-story upscale, limited-service hotel would be a Hilton Hotel’s and Resorts Home2Suites brand and would include a fitness center, sizeable lobby and pool.

Plans don’t include a restaurant.

Rooms, which would all be suites, would have an average cost of $117 per night.

Conflict

Not all proposed developments in Eagan were embraced with open arms this past year.

Vexing a crowd of residents, the City Council approved a proposal in April to turn Parkview Golf Course into a 170-unit housing development, which ended a year-long battle over the proposal.

Eden Prairie real estate developer Hunter Emerson’s controversial plans met a slew of criticism over the span of a year from nearby residents who had hoped to keep the property as a golf course in an effort to maintain green space and provide outdoor recreational opportunities.

Several council members, including Mayor Mike Maguire, cited the similar Carriage Hills proposal, which ended in a 2007 court case and settlement against the city, as a significant factor in their decision.

As in the Carriage Hills case, Parkview owner Robert Zakheim claimed that Parkview, located at 1290 and 1310 Cliff Road, was losing money due to declining demand and that the current market presents no reasonable options aside from selling the property for development.

All but one council member said they believed the city didn’t have the evidence to deny Hunter Emerson’s request without risking another lawsuit.

An eleventh-hour offer of $1.5 million was made by Eagan resident Jeff Varela but was rejected by Hunter Emerson. The developer’s attorney Jack Pierce said the offer was too low and contained unreasonable conditions.

Dakota County assessed the property in 2012 at $3.5 million, and Pierce noted that assessed values are typically lower than a fair market value.

The purchase price wasn’t the only matter of contention between Hunter Emerson and Varela. They also disagreed on the amount Varela agreed to put down on the property and whether he provided complete proof of his ability to financially back the offer.

Several residents expressed their disgust when council members agreed with the developer that the offer was too low. One resident even began to shout and name call Maguire as he questioned Varela.

Maguire criticized Varela for his lack of research and incomplete proof of his financials and questioned whether Varela’s offer was credible considering he waited until five days before the council meeting to make it.

Though Council Member Paul Bakken questioned the validity of Varela’s offer, he maintained that Zakheim had the ability to sell the 18-hole golf course under the existing zoning and voted against the proposal.

Bakken, who cast the sole dissenting vote, said he believes the city should have denied the proposal and take its chances with the courts.

Lebanon Hills

Residents again became impassioned over green space when Dakota County Parks officials announced plans in June to create 8.5 miles of paved trails in Lebanon Hills Regional Park, a 1,842-acre park in Eagan and Apple Valley.

The county’s proposed plan, which has met strong resistance from residents, includes 24.5 miles of unpaved trails, a new paved 6.5-mile connector trail that runs east and west and a 2-mile paved loop around Holland and McDonough lakes. The plan would keep all existing unpaved trails in Lebanon Hills the same, and would add six miles of unpaved trails. In total, the park would have 46 miles of unpaved trails.

Parks officials envision the paved trails would provide four-season recreation for bicyclists, walkers and skaters. In the latest draft, officials are considering closing the western loop around Holland and McDonough lakes in the winter to allow cross-country skiers to cross the trail.

Several opposition groups claim the paved trails will harm the environment and the park’s aesthetics.

Some people have voiced their support for the plan, including Margo Imdieke-Cross of the Minnesota State Council on Disabilities who said she believes the new paved trails would allow better access for people with disabilities.

County officials and opposition group Save Lebanon Hills Wilderness have held a number of public meetings on the matter.

Change

Eagan has seen a number of changes in the past year, not only in economic development, but also within its organizations.

The year kicked off with news that Ruthe Batulis planned to leave the Dakota County Chamber of Commerce to start a new chapter in her life in Wisconsin.

Ruthe Batulis, Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce

Ruthe Batulis, Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce

The 62-year-old stepped down as president of the chamber in April to move to her lakefront cabin in Spooner, Wis.

With her three sons grown and the chamber running smoothly, Batulis said she felt the timing was right to move to the sleepy town.

Batulis came to the DCR Chamber after gaining experience at both the Bloomington and Burnsville chambers of commerce. In 2005, the then Northern Dakota County Chamber expanded to include the former Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce, after which Batulis implemented a re-branding campaign that included a name change for the organization.

Her new regional focus allowed the organization to think differently about its approach to chamber membership.

Batulis was succeeded by Vicki Stute.

Stute previously served as president of the Angel Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps adults with cancer and their families.

Though she worked in the nonprofit field for a number of years, Stute has extensive chamber of commerce background.

She began her career as a staff member at the South St. Paul/Inver Grove Heights Chamber of Commerce (renamed the River Heights Chamber of Commerce).

From there, she held various leadership position including president and CEO at Twin West, Red Wing Area and the St. Paul Area chambers of commerce.

Dave Osberg

Dave Osberg

Dave Osberg

The city of Eagan also welcomed a new leader in April with the hiring of its second city administrator after its first, Tom Hedges, retired.

Previously an intern with the city of Eagan, Dave Osberg came full circle by succeeding his mentor.

While working on his master’s degree in urban and regional studies at Mankato State University, Osberg landed an internship with the city of Eagan.

As a young graduate student, Osberg looked up to Hedges, who has been highly regarded among those in the field.

Though Osberg has a history with the city of Eagan, city officials noted he was chosen as Eagan’s second city administrator due to his 30-year experience and impressive track record, among other aspects.

Upon completing his internship and graduating from Mankato State in 1982, Osberg was hired as a city administrator for St. James, Minn.

While there, he married his wife of 29 years, Laurie, and had four children, who are now grown.

By 1989, Osberg moved his family to Hastings where he took a job as the city’s administrator.

While the city of Eagan and Dakota County Chamber saw positive change in 2013, one of the city’s largest employers endured change that was more onerous.

Thomson Reuters announced in December that a round of 3,000 company-wide layoffs will include its Eagan campus.

The New York-based company employs 7,000 workers in Eagan, which serves as its headquarters for its legal business.

Thomson Reuters has yet to release the number of Eagan employees to be cut, but has said that job cuts are in management information systems.

Saying goodbye

The Eagan community was forced to say goodbye to two of its longtime community leaders this past year.

In April, former Eagan City Council Member Ted Wachter died at age 89. Known to many as Mr. Tree, Wachter saw value in preserving green space long before “going green” was considered cool.

Ted Wachter

Ted Wachter

Wachter, who spent 41 years in public office, had a passion for preservation and creating opportunities for area youth.

The Rosemount native was a proponent of preserving old trees and crafted for the city ordinances aimed at preserving old trees and planting new ones.

An avid history buff, Wachter was a founding member, chair and resident storyteller of the Eagan Historical Society.

He was instrumental in restoring Eagan’s 1914 town hall, located on Pilot Knob Road, and in creating Holz Farm park.

Wachter got his first taste of public service in 1958 as a new member of the township planning commission. Wachter remained on the commission until 1972 when he became a member of the first Eagan Village Council.

Two years later, Eagan incorporated as a city and Wachter was elected to the City Council. He retired in 1998.

Five months after Wachter’s death, longtime Eagan businessman and entrepreneur Dan Shimek died of cancer at age 65.

Shimek left his mark on a number of communities as a business owner and philanthropist.

His first venture was Heat-N-Glo, which he founded in Burnsville in 1975 with his brother, Ron Shimek, who died in 2002.

Shimek stayed on as president after the company merged in 1996 with Heatilator to form Hearth and Home Technologies in Lakeville.

He retired in 2002, but that was short-lived.

Within a year he founded Eagan-based Outdoor GreatRoom Company, which designs and manufactures upscale fire pits, furniture and kitchens for outdoor living spaces.

Though Outdoor GreatRoom felt the weight of the recession, it continued to thrive with annual sales in the millions. Aiming to save money and bring business to Minnesota, Shimek moved the company’s engineering, production and manufacturing operation from overseas and Salt Lake City, Utah, to its headquarters in Eagan.

A year after opening Outdoor GreatRoom, Shimek opened Enjoy! and then Paradise Landing restaurant in Balsam Lake, Wis., and a winery called Chateau St. Croix in St. Croix Falls, Wis.

Dan Shimek

Dan Shimek

Seeing promise in Apple Valley’s Central Village, Shimek and his wife, Kay, opened Enjoy! restaurant in 2004 at 15435 Founders Lane. The district was envisioned as a thriving downtown area, but by 2008 it was filled with empty storefronts and undeveloped lots due to the recession. A savvy businessman, Shimek was able to beat the tide. Three years later, the restaurant’s future became brighter as Central Village rebounded.

In August, the couple temporarily closed Enjoy! and sold the restaurant to Twin Cities restaurateur Bob Tinsley, who plans to reopen it under the name Vivo.

At the time, the couple said they sold the restaurant to “simplify our program.”

Looking to 2014

In the coming year, the Cedar Grove Redevelopment District will come to life with the August opening of Paragon Outlet Mall and construction of several other projects in the district.

Construction of the Flats at Cedar Grove and the Home2Suites hotel are expected to begin in 2014 upon the City Council’s approval of final purchase agreements and planned development proposals.

The council will likely vote on both proposals early in the year.

While many residents eagerly welcome upcoming construction in 2014, others will likely continue to protest other developments.

As plans for paving 8.5 miles of trails in Lebanon Hills are reviewed next year, opposition groups are expected to continue to urge officials to reject the plans. A final public meeting will be held in January before the proposal goes to the County Board.

The fight may not be over for those working to preserve Lebanon Hills, but the battle has ended in a loss for residents who fought to preserve Parkview Golf Course. To their chagrin, residents living near Parkview will likely see homes replace the 18-hole golf course in 2014.

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