Leaders express vision for lakeshore

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 8, 2002

It starts with vision, but to be successful it needs effective leadership and support from citizens.

What is it? Development of Albert Lea’s lakefront, especially the former Farmland property that lies between Albert Lea Lake and Fountain Lake.

About 40 community and business leaders gathered to brainstorm and get organized Tuesday morning at Riverland College’s Albert Lea campus. The stated goal was to start figuring out what the community should do with the property where the old Farmland plant is located.

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According to community member Karen Smed, it was an attempt to pull people from lots of different entities together to create a sense of vision about the community’s lakefronts.

&uot;We need to work on ways to plan for growth, giving young people reasons to stay here and raise families after they finish their educations,&uot; said Smed.

The gathering was led by Jerry Kimball, who served as the city planner of Duluth until he retired. He was invited by Greater Jobs Inc., which organized the event, to share his perspective on urban waterfront development and facilitate dreaming and brainstorming.

During Kimball’s tenure as planner, the city of Duluth and community organizations and area businesses worked together to rehabilitate Duluth’s waterfront, creating a more attractive city and increasing Duluth’s appeal for both tourists and city residents.

Kimball is impressed with Albert Lea, calling it a &uot;very large small town,&uot; but he isn’t pretending that the two communities have all that much in common. He insists, however, that similar transformations could happen here &045; with vision, leadership and citizen support.

&uot;We need to be clear about the differences between Duluth and Albert Lea, but the differences are only in scale; the philosophy is the same,&uot; Kimball said. Duluth is a city of over 80,000 situated on the largest lake in the world. Albert Lea is a bit smaller, but it has many natural features that make it an attractive and unique community.

According to Kimball, one important difference is how much effort to put into development for tourists as opposed to development for people who choose to live here. Without a major tourist magnet in the community, he thinks it might be wisest for people in Albert Lea to focus on quality of life, what he calls &uot;the coolness factor&uot; so people are attracted to Albert Lea as a place to build a home and a business and not just pass through.

Kimball also thinks that the time for community leaders in Albert Lea to start taking advantage of opportunities for development is now.

&uot;I’d say the opportunities are bigger today than they’ll see in the next 50 years,&uot; he said.

As those in attendance discussed the issues in large groups and in smaller workshops, some trends became evident.

For one, it’s clear that the community leaders present don’t want to see the former Farmland site turned into another industrial or business park, even though the infrastructure in place is designed for that purpose.

The community needs retail and other businesses related to recreation at that location, said some. It is located close to both lakes and the Blazing Star Bike Trail. And it would be good to include something that visually calls attention to Albert Lea as people drive past on Interstate 35.

Other ideas related to finding ways to connect the Fountain and Albert Lea Lakes, either for people using recreational trails or boats. Making the lakes more accessible to people who don’t actually live right next to one was also seen as a priority.

Whether the dreams turn into reality will depend on whether those gathered can turn dreams into reality. Brad Arends and Pam Bishop of Greater Jobs are organizing a Task Force which will meet in two or three weeks to take the ideas from the meeting and plan to turn them into practical projects.

Before things get too far into the planning stages, the whole community will need to be involved, Kimball reminded those in attendance, so that development is something that everyone can take pride of ownership in.