Another growth tsunami coming to Scott County?

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • March 13, 2012 - 11:59 AM

The coming speedup of traffic into Scott County could unleash a wave of commercial and industrial development, but that could also mean costly preparation and some angry property owners who find themselves in the way.

That was the blunt warning late last week when the county's top elected officials and their staff met to talk about the county's prospects for adding jobs.

"The floodgates are about to open again," said Savage City Administrator Barry Stock. "Are we ready?" he asked. And can the county muster the courage?

"You as leaders will have to have the guts to do some things that hurt people," Stock said. "Everything we do will take someone out, more than likely, and that takes guts."

Same thing with incentives: "Some don't like tax abatements -- oooooh, they're swear words -- but that's the only way it'll happen."

Shakopee's economic development chief, Michael Leek, reinforced that point, saying the balance has shifted from the era when cities could demand all kinds of ancillary spending from developers wanting the right to build in their communities.

"There are financial investments we need to make now," he said, "and that's difficult to do. We tend to like to keep tax rates low."

Key blockages to traffic are closer than ever to being wiped away at three spots: at Hwy. 169 and Interstate 494 north of the river, and at two hot spots along Hwy. 13. That should help change perceptions and reality.

The county's planning director, Brad Davis, went over several possible sites for development all across the county, but stressed four as key priorities based on discussions with experienced land brokers who toured numerous locations:

The Hwy. 101 corridor just west of the Bloomington Ferry Bridge in Shakopee: a quick trip from the inner metro, but lacking infrastructure on its eastern parcels.

At Hwys. 169 and 69 on the western edge of Shakopee, site of a planned interchange that will trigger demand for land.

At Hwys. 169 and 282 in Jordan, which needs a new interchange and a radically cheaper one than has been discussed to date.

At Interstate 35 and County Road 2 east of Elko New Market, an ideal staging area for traffic heading north from the rest of the country but not yet annexed by the city and therefore not ready to be served with sewer, water and other needs.

Lurking behind it all is a sense that despite some marginal improvements, commute times will only lengthen in the long haul and the county needs to add jobs close to peoples' homes.

The presence in Scott of executive-type homes, notably on acreage lots in the rural townships, could be a competitive advantage as business owners seek to place large installations near their own places of residence, the group was told.

But there are lots of drawbacks to lots of sites.

Savage, for instance, has lots of open land under single ownership near its civic campus, with a post office, library and other nearby amenities. But that site is uphill from an environmentally delicate and rare wetland area, an obstacle to developers wanting smooth sailing.

Shakopee, already adding jobs at a rate that's notable even from a metro-wide vantage point, emerges from the analysis as a key place for future jobs as well. One reason is rail access, which could become more important as gas prices soar.

After listening to the discussion, Shakopee's new mayor, Brad Tabke, said it reinforces his sense that now is a key time.

Change is coming soon

"We have a lot of work to do in Shakopee in planning and economic development, in streamlining how we do things and providing customer service for the businesses coming to us, despite some good wins that I'm extremely proud of," he said.

"But we have a window of 12 to 18 months before things really kick off, and our goal should be within six to 12 months to have a process in place, because we definitely have some growth potential."

Among the other locations discussed, here was Davis' summary of their position in the market:

•Prior Lake's frontage on County Road 42. Large parcels, pretty natural amenities, already planned for commercial growth, but distant from major traffic corridors and not busy enough for retail yet.

•Belle Plaine and New Prague. Nice sites to build on, and fairly cheap, with Belle Plaine aided by proposed improvements to County Road 8, but quite remote from the airport and inner metro. National executives like to be able to fly in, get to their facility, and get back home the same day.

•Credit River and Spring Lake Townships. Have potential, but no sewer or water yet and lightly populated. Spring Lake has sites that could attract developers wanting cheap outdoor storage, anathema to more built-up suburbs and cities, but Prior Lake plans to spread toward those sites, and homeowners who arrive later on will be no more keen on the aesthetics or other side effects.

Key staffers emphasized that areas that prosper in the years to come will not be those that sit back and wait for a proposal to come along, but rather those that move aggressively to prepare.

Said Frank Boyles, city manager in Prior Lake, "The traditional ways of operating don't apply. It's a sea change."

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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