City to request $15M for Blazing Star site

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The city has two options for the former meatpacking plant now known as the Blazing Star Landing. - Provided

The city has two options for the former meatpacking plant now known as the Blazing Star Landing. – Provided

The city of Albert Lea is looking to request $15 million in state bonding to develop the Blazing Star Landing, a project that would change the face of Albert Lea.

More details will be available later today on the estimated project cost and possible funding sources, said Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams. He said the proposed project would likely be done in stages, and the city will have to provide at least a 50/50 share for state bonding dollars.

The land has sat unused since a fire at the former Farmland Foods plant in 2001, and the owners opted not to rebuild.

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Adams said the first two phases of the project are estimated to cost $42 million.

The first phase of development would include moving Front Street north to make way for lakefront development. Preliminary preparation work would occur north of the railroad. The second phase includes the construction of a community center plus additional work north of the railroad.

The proposed funding is for the two phases.

The Minnesota Senate Capital Investment Committee will hear presentations from the city Oct. 29. Open houses for residents to give feedback will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Blazing Star Landing site, at the corner of Main Street and Garfield Avenue, and from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday. Funding options will be discussed at the open houses.

The Albert Lea City Council will consider support for applying for bonding money at its meeting Monday. A public forum will be held.

A developer is needed before the project begins, according to Adams.

“One of our core messages to the public is that we are not going to spend any of the state’s bonding money, or any local dollars, until we have private development secured so that those new taxes can be used to pay for the infrastructure and a large portion of the Blazing Star Community Center planned on the site,” Adams said in an email.

The first two phases would lay the groundwork for other projects the city is considering, including a new ice arena, a new City Hall and space for outdoor recreation, including the potential for kayaking, canoeing and ice skating on the Shell Rock River.

Adams said City Hall probably won’t move for at least another 20 years, but the ice arena could move sooner.

“At some point in time this facility will be at the end of its useful life,” Adams said of City Hall. “We recognize this land could be used for a much better purpose, it being lakefront property.”

Adams said the city would allow the private market to decide the site’s future purpose.

He said it would be years before the projects are completed, if they take place.

The development will allow space for a hotel and other retail, including multi-story, mixed-use buildings where visibility from East Main Street is high, he said.

The intent of the Blazing Star Landing master plan is to create a place that is an extension of downtown and an enhancement of the lakefront of Albert Lea Lake.

The city has produced two options for the development. The options feature different locations for facilities in association with the proposed development.

Adams said feedback has indicated Option B as preferred because of several factors, including:

• Distribution of small retail businesses and housing along the lakefront to promote public activity and access

• Clearly defined zones

• Scale of development appropriate for lakeshore. The option reportedly provides views to the lake from the north and access to the Shell Rock River

• Open civic mall for multiple functions, including markets, fairs and sporting events

• Connection of Blazing Star Trail along the lakeshore west to pool and recreation areas

• Retail and hotel access and visibility from Main Street.

In Option B, south of the railroad tracks, a separate lakefront district is envisioned by the city, where a mix of small retail and residential areas are oriented toward the water with a continuous lakefront promenade that the city said will enhance public access and activity at the waterfront.

Adams said the city wanted to have at least a couple of concepts for the public and key stakeholders to review so they could hear feedback on the positive and negative aspects of each concept.

Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randy Kehr said development would increase the tax base.

“We’ve always thought additional lakeshore development beneficial,” Kehr said. “This makes perfect sense.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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