Council denies TIF for drug store

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2006

By Kari Lucin, staff writer

Walgreens drug store will not be part of a tax-increment-financing district, the Albert Lea City Council decided after hearing numerous concerns about the project from five citizens in person and a few more via letters to the city manager.

The vote was 5-2.

Councilors Jeff Fjelstad and Randy Erdman dissented from the rest of the council and were against denying Walgreens TIF status.

&8220;I think it&8217;s more of a policy issue,&8221; Erdman said. &8220;We made more of a statement that we weren&8217;t going to give retail a TIF for any kind of redevelopment, and TIF is really a tool for redevelopment.&8221;

Erdman, a candidate for mayor, also believed there were more environmental problems with the land in that block &8212; where Wendy&8217;s and Domino&8217;s on Main Street and several residences on Bridge Avenue now stand. The strip where Main Street and Bridge Avenue run parallel was once called Gasoline Alley because of the prevalence of gas stations, and Walgreens&8217; developer cited &8220;staggering costs&8221; as part of its reasoning for asking for TIF status.

Had the city approved it, the TIF would have saved Walgreens about $22,000 a year for 15 years. County property taxes would have been unaltered, with Walgreens paying exactly the same amount of money the former landowners were paying, but no more &8212; no net gain and no net loss of taxes. After the TIF period ends, the new development would have been taxed normally.

But the other four councilors and the mayor all voted to deny Walgreens&8217; request, though some expressed the hope that Walgreens would still build on the site.

&8220;I don&8217;t want to drive anybody away, but I also like to think that Walgreens wants to come to this community in a way that it&8217;s willing, that it will realize public funds have to go into that. So I&8217;m not comfortable with allowing the TIF just for that purpose,&8221; said Councilor Al Brooks, who seeks re-election on the November ballot. &8220;But by all means, that doesn&8217;t mean I do not want Walgreens to come to Albert Lea.&8221;

Councilor Vern Rasmussen Jr. emphasized that Walgreens had chosen the site, and that the company should therefore accept the responsibility for any problems with the land.

&8220;I think it is developable, if they don&8217;t choose to do it, so my vote will also reflect that,&8221; Rasmussen said.

Proponents of the Walgreens TIF said they hoped the businesses currently at the location would simply move somewhere else in town, and that the new business would help attract youth to the community. They emphasized that no property taxes would be lost because Walgreens would keep paying the same amount as the current property owners pay.

Some opponents of the TIF referred to Walgreens&8217; status as a &8220;big-box&8221; chain store, noting there are local drug stores downtown. Others were simply against giving TIF status to any type of retail store, saying they believed it would just shuffle jobs around town and not add any. One person simply didn&8217;t like the idea of turning the area, which has a scenic view of Fountain Lake, into a strip mall.

In other news, the City Council:

– Voted 6-0 to allow the Albert Lea Medical Center to build two additional floors onto its current three-story building. Councilor Vern Rasmussen abstained.

– Authorized Larson Manufacturing&8217;s move into 31 acres in the Industrial Park. Larson will have both Job Opportunity Building Zone and TIF status, though only one can be in play at a time. The business will have 75 employees.

– Will allow the Sesquicentennial Committee to close Broadway Avenue Sept. 10 for a Historic Downtown Walk. Costumed actors and antique vehicles from every era of Albert Lea&8217;s history will take over the street in honor of the city&8217;s 150th anniversary.

– Agreed First Lutheran Church could have two provisional handicapped parking spaces in addition to the four they already have. The new spaces will only be handicapped spaces from 7 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

– Decided to wait until a September meeting to vote on involvement in a regional project with public television station KSMQ. The project would involve creating 30-minute programs on the city of Albert Lea that would air in Rochester, Mankato, Owatonna, Austin and the rest of southern Minnesota.

– Did not change the rental fee for the City Arena that Albert Lea schools pay each year for hockey season&8212; $50,000 for ice time and use of other arena facilities. The city will likely reassess the fee for next year due to inflation.

– Agreed to fix a dilapidated water main on Plainview Lane. The main dated from 1959, and as such, no fees will be assessed to area property owners.

– Found that turning the exhaust pipe at the new lift station on Cedar Avenue would not help disperse the fumes that leak out of it when the station isn&8217;t operating.

– Heard that Larry Baker is still actively campaigning to be the Ward 2 City Councilor. Rumors to the contrary were incorrect, said City Manager Victoria Simonsen.