Inside, the roomy new Forest Lake City Center serves as a high-tech, high-efficiency headquarters for city offices and the police and fire departments.

With new audiovisual technology, community rooms and city departments under one roof, the building "will create a better citizen engagement experience," City Administrator Aaron Parrish said last week at City Center's open house.

Parrish hopes the sight of the modern, brick-and-glass City Center structure, on busy Hwy. 61, also will help Forest Lake attract new development.

"In the past we had such limited meeting facilities that when we were meeting with people that wanted to make investments in our community, we really didn't have a great front door for that," Parrish said of the previous city hall, built in 1939 and severely short of space despite a couple of additions. "This building represents an opportunity to do that."

The Forest Lake City Center stands on what was the site of the former Northland Mall. The city demolished the 130,000-square-foot enclosed and open-air shopping center except for a 30,000-square-foot, newly refaced building. Occupants include an Anytime Fitness location.

Hwy. 61 revitalization

"We're excited about what it's done for the site as well as for Hwy. 61," Parrish said, noting that more than 20,000 cars pass daily. "The revitalization of Hwy. 61 was the (Forest Lake) Economic Development Authority's No. 1 redevelopment priority. We've gotten to enhance city offices and make them more functional and we've gotten the redevelopment on 61 that we were looking for."

Parrish said he expected new retail or office projects on two pieces of land, totaling 20,000 square feet, that sit in front of the City Center building. The property will be "tax-base positive" when the new developments are done, he said.

The city would like to see reuse of the old city hall, vacated after employees moved into the new building Dec. 3, now for sale along with its 2.5-acre site, Parrish said. The city will keep an old township hall, which formerly housed its administration and finance staff, and a fire station that the department is vacating. The city's public works department will use both buildings.

Costing about $19 million, the 65,000-square-foot Forest Lake City Center was built $1.5 million under budget, Parrish said.

The city borrowed $21 million to build what originally was envisioned as a 75,000-square-foot building, Parrish said. Engineering choices and sharing spaces helped shrink the building's footprint.

The City Center building was designed to exceed minimum energy codes by 30 percent, Parrish said, and the city stands to get $75,000 in energy rebates once it receives certification of its energy efficiency.

New tech, more room

As visitors toured the new building, they saw large video monitors in the City Council chambers, which Parrish said represented a major upgrade, and audiovisual technology in community meeting and training rooms. They also visited the police department's new 16-car garage, which Police Chief Rick Peterson said allows for indoor storage of all 12 of the city's patrol vehicles. The department previously had a two-car garage.

"One priority was to get patrol vehicles that for decades have been sitting outside in the elements inside during the winter and summer months," Peterson said. "It really takes a toll on the very expensive electronics that are in the patrol vehicles," including laptops, radars and in-car cameras.

The new detention center offers greater security for officers and detainees, who no longer have to be escorted up a flight of stairs to reach the holding cells, Peterson said. The police department also has room to grow, with the garage built to accommodate a 5,000-square-foot addition to its second floor.

No sign of the opposition that once flared up over plans for a new city hall, leading to a lawsuit that attempted to block the project, was evident during last week's open house.

"There were some differences of opinion," Parrish said. "I think at this point, we want to really be looking forward and enjoy this new facility, kind of move onward and upward and have it be the asset to the community that we know it can be."

Forest Lake resident Don Halvorsen said he was impressed with the new building.

"The move was long overdue," said Halvorsen, who was wearing a Forest Lake Area High School ball cap. "It's something that the city, people like myself, can be proud of. From the outside, you don't realize how much room there is on the inside. The way they divided it up, it will be very functional. I'm proud of what they did."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is