Longtime planner to retire

Published 10:07 am Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Albert Lea Community Development Director Bob Graham will retire Dec. 7 after almost 34 years in the position. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

After almost 34 years as Albert Lea’s city planner, Community Development Director Bob Graham will retire Dec. 7.

Though Graham, 72, will no longer work in the public sector, he said he plans to continue as an independent consultant with an emphasis on community organization, community vitality and collaboration.

“I’m not leaving the planning profession by any means,” he said. “I think there’s a lot to be done that I can do.”

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Graham, who moved to Albert Lea with his family in 1979, has had a role in numerous projects and development throughout the community. However, he said these projects could not be made possible without the efforts of many of his co-workers.

“I don’t think anyone can fully take credit for any aspect of anything,” he said.

Most recently, he is proud to have been a part of the downtown revitalization efforts under way and the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project, for which he was co-chairman. Since the Vitality Project finished, he has delivered about 30 presentations about the experience to groups across the city, state and even the nation.

He managed the rehabilitation of the historic Freeborn National Bank and Jacobson Apartments, managed the rehabilitation of Shady Oaks Apartments, and created and managed the Albert Lea Area Listens project.

He said he thought the Albert Lea Listens project was especially significant, as it helped bring the community back together after the Farmland Foods fire.

“It felt like the community needed to hear the people, and after all the listening was completed, all the people had the same vision,” Graham said.

He said in his definition, a city planner helps prepare the community to take advantage of future opportunity.

“An unprepared community is a community that will fail to understand and grasp opportunity,” he said. “To not plan is to short circuit the future — yours, mine, our children’s and grandchildren’s. A failure to plan is a plan for failure.”

In addition to planning and community development responsibilities, Graham was the manager of the Albert Lea Housing and Redevelopment Authority for 24 years and obtained and managed more than $15 million in grants for the city and HRA.

He has been the Freeborn County Family Services Collaborative board chairman for 16 years and is a member of Daybreakers Kiwanis and Trinity Lutheran Church, among other groups.

“I will miss each and every one of the employees more than anything,” Graham said. “The employees make the city, and I’m going to miss the contact that I have with local businesses and industries and the community in general. They’re the ones that have the ideas that want to change something. The planner has the ability to welcome change and facilitate change.”

City employee Wendy Flugum, who has worked with Graham since 2003, described Graham as a mentor and guide through many community development projects.

“I especially enjoyed working with him on the restoration of the Freeborn Bank and Lea Center buildings, as well as the 2009 Blue Zones Vitality Project,” Flugum said. “I am grateful for his help and friendship over the years.”

Robert Hoffman, chairman of the Albert Lea Planning Commission, said it has been an honor to serve with Graham.

“Bob Graham’s direction, experience and passion have all been inspiring,” Hoffman said.

He noted that aside from his time with Graham on the Planning Commission, Graham’s efforts also helped him and his wife to trust in the future of the city enough to purchase a downtown building with plans to rehabilitate it.

Graham thanked the members of the Albert Lea Planning Commission, the Heritage Preservation Commission, the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and the Albert Lea City Council for their time working on behalf of the city. He also thanked developers who took risks and worked to achieve new opportunities.

He said he has worked in government for 49 years and as a professional planner for 45.

Prior to coming to Albert Lea, he worked in Chemung County, N.Y., and St. Louis Park.

“I’m grateful for all of his years of service to the city,” said City Manager Chad Adams. “He’s been a very committed and passionate employee with community development. I want to wish him the best in his retirement.”

A retirement reception will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 7 in honor of Graham at the City Council Chambers at City Hall.

Adams said he is talking with other staff about the city’s needs for a community development director and said he did not know whether the position would be refilled or if the duties would be divided up among other employees.