The east side of St. Cloud has a strong identity: hardworking and blue-collar, industrial, and for the past several decades, overlooked.
Among the businesses that make up the neighborhood are East Side Glass and Mid-State Tile, Midway Iron and Metal and Gopher Bargain Center, companies built not so much on technological wizardry but on old-fashioned work ethic.
"We're scrappy, we're gritty," said Joan Jaye, director of the East Side Boosters.
"People have looked at us as a dumping ground. It's like, 'no, we're a scrapyard. We're a recycling center.' "
But now, St. Cloud's east side has become a bit of a blank canvas as the city mulls a plan to redevelop an area that's long been seeking a makeover.
The engineering services company Stantec recently unveiled a draft redevelopment plan for a complete reworking of the eastern banks of the Mississippi River adjacent to St. Cloud's thriving downtown.
The East End Small Area Plan proposes a half-dozen redevelopment opportunities in the area, from a riverfront hotel, restaurant and plaza to replace the Riverside Apartments, to a riverfront office complex with attached townhouses, to a small grocery and active retail corridor.
"It creates one downtown where the river is just flowing through it," said St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis. "That's the grand vision, to create that connection."
One catalyst for redevelopment could be the Northstar commuter rail line. The train now links the Twin Cities' northwest suburbs to downtown Minneapolis. But the current terminus for the 40-mile line is the city of Big Lake, which is about 25 miles southeast of St. Cloud.
The Legislature earmarked funds for a Minnesota Department of Transportation study to look at extending the rail line to St. Cloud. If the extension eventually gets built — which Kleis said he expects to happen within five years — the new line would end on the east side of St. Cloud.
The city unveiled the redevelopment plan at a public meeting and hopes to get as much public input on it as possible.
The draft plan is available for reading and viewing on the city's website, ci.stcloud.mn.us, along with a survey about redevelopment of the east side neighborhood.
St. Cloud leaders believe a convergence of factors could lend momentum to east-side revitalization.
One is the potential railway connecting St. Cloud to Minneapolis.
Another is opportunity-zone legislation that provides economic development incentives for companies willing to build in certain places; the east side of St. Cloud is designated as one of those opportunity zones.
A third factor is a change in the ownership structure of a large lumber company that sits on a chunk of land not far from the Mississippi River.
"It's a grand vision, but one of the big-bang moments could be the extension of the Northstar train to east St. Cloud," said Matt Glaesman, St. Cloud's planning and development director. "It's really a new phase for the east side of town going forward."
St. Cloud City Council Member Steve Laraway, who represents the east side, said he loves the suggestion of turning the lumber company land, which is adjacent to the Amtrak station, into a transportation hub.
"Some of the plans are achievable, but it's good to have those big audacious goals," Laraway said.
"But," he added, "I'd settle for a few wins in that process."
Reid Forgrave • 612-673-4647