With Cottage Grove's city officials and Public Safety Department all moved into a new building, it might be assumed that the former City Hall would fade quietly into the past.

Yet, in a new role, it could become an important part of the city's future.

The 44-year-old building has been transformed into the Business Enterprise Center, which will serve as a base to help budding entrepreneurs launch new businesses and existing businesses look for ways to expand or branch into new enterprises.

Developed under the auspices of the city's quasi-public Economic Development Authority, the Enterprise Center is a "business accelerator" aimed at growing the city's economic base and adding high-quality jobs, said Danette Parr, Cottage Grove's economic development director.

Those goals, in turn, can bolster the city's quality of life while helping hold down property tax bills.

"We've been talking about doing this for quite a while," said Parr, standing in the now-deserted building where the hum of city business once sounded and police officers tended to daily dramas. "We've got a lot of different opportunities here for a lot of different kinds of uses."

Providing a strong start

Like a traditional business incubator, the Enterprise Center will help fledgling businesses get off the ground. But an accelerator takes that a step further by helping existing businesses find the resources to ramp up their growth, Parr said.

The center offers a single base at break-even costs where early-stage businesses can develop products, create lab space for research and development, find business coaching, learn marketing, network, find potential partners and establish office space to begin operations.

Parr sees endless possibilities.

"This space is so conducive to this kind of use that it's really amazing to me," she said. The Economic Development Authority already has received inquiries from businesses interested in moving in.

The former City Hall, on 80th Street, was built in 1968 when Cottage Grove's population was about 12,000. It was expanded in 1973 and 1985 and remodeled in 1995, putting it at more than 24,000 square feet.

But the city's population, about 36,000, has nearly tripled since 1968 and continues to grow. Even before the last remodeling was finished, the city began planning to replace it as its workforce -- particularly the police department -- continued to grow with the population.

The city's new 66,000-square-foot Public Safety/City Hall building on the east edge of town opened last month. The $15.1 million project was completed without raising property taxes, thanks to cash reserves and an internal loan the city made to itself through bonding.

While space at the old City Hall was no longer adequate for its original use -- the jail's holding cells, for example, did not comply with state standards -- it's ideal for a business accelerator, Parr said.

The old police garage, with its high ceiling and concrete floor, could become light manufacturing bays, she said. The evidence storage room, once stacked with shelves of weapons and confiscated drugs, could become a laboratory for a budding biotech company.

The former City Council chambers, site of so many debates and decisions, could become a classroom where entrepreneurs learn how to turn ideas into profitable reality.

Tapestry Management, which manages the biotech incubator University Enterprise Laboratories in St. Paul, will have a similar role at Cottage Grove's Enterprise Center. An executive board will oversee the center and screen applicants wanting to locate there.

The Enterprise Center is aiming for industries that are eligible for the state's Angel Tax Credit Program (biotechnology, clean technology, electronics and others), production services like computerized machining and others that offer high-quality job growth, Parr said.

The goal is to have tenants stay at the Business Enterprise Center no more than three years and get off to a strong start -- before moving on to their own space in Cottage Grove.

Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson