(Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 18--For a while, it seemed the redevelopment of downtown Hugo was gaining steam.
Dilapidated buildings were torn down, land was readied for developers, detailed mockups of residential and retail proposals were drawn, and marketers were brought in.
But it's been several years since the momentum began, and the landscape remains unchanged.
More than 4 acres of city-owned land are still on the market. A 6-acre park has yet to be revamped. Plans for high-density housing near city hall have progressed at a snail's pace.
"This is a downtown redevelopment," city administrator Bryan Bear said Wednesday. "It's always complicated. It's always a puzzle. There are multiple landowners. It's a lengthy and complicated process.
Two recent changes may breathe new life into the process.
The city this week signed a one-year contract with a commercial broker to market the city-owned property that sits across U.S. 61 from city hall and overlooks Egg Lake. The contract replaces an agreement with a previous marketing group, whose efforts did not pan out as hoped.
And next week, the planning commission is expected to approve the final site plan for a senior housing development next to Lions Park and behind city hall, followed by a city council vote in early May. Construction of 135 independent, assisted-living and memory-care units could begin in June.
The redevelopment process is like setting up dominoes: One piece falling into place leads to another.
As part of the senior housing development agreement, the developer will dedicate parkland to the city.
Once that land changes hands, redevelopment plans for Lions Park can move forward.
Those plans could then spark momentum for an adjacent landowner's development ideas, including potential residential and retail construction, Bear said.
Though the western part of downtown redevelopment is moving at a crawl, it's closer to reality than its eastern counterpart.
The city owns about 4 1/2 acres of land between 145th and 147th streets east of U.S. 61, just across the highway from city hall, including the former Carpenter's Steak House site.
A couple of years ago, new development in that stretch seemed possible. A developer was working to market part of the land for a privately run event center, and the city was in talks with local restaurateurs and a theater group about potential relocation there.
But none of that panned out.
Bear said that while some might be disappointed that development hasn't happened as fast as hoped, there's a balance to be struck.
"The (Economic Development Authority) will tell you they're eagerly anticipating development in downtown Hugo," Bear said. "But there's a question about how quickly you want development to happen, or if you're willing to wait for the right fit."
What the "right fit" may be is uncertain, but Bear said there's one idea he's hopeful about.
"It is realistic to think a hotel might be interested in this property," he said.
Xcel Energy recently built a regional training center in Hugo and the out-of-town trainees and corporate visitors have nowhere to stay, Bear said. The city also hosts a variety of events that draw huge crowds, including the state high school rodeo, soccer tournaments, mud runs and outdoor or hunting expos.
The ideal development would give those visitors a place to stay and dine, Bear said.
The first development deal on the property -- whatever it is -- will be a crucial first domino to fall.
"If we are going to get something done on this property, we see that as a catalyst," Bear said. "That may set the tone for what else may come."
Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162. Follow her at twitter.com/LizMohr.
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