Editor's note: Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes sat down with Editor Per Peterson this week and offered a point-by-point look at what lies ahead for the city of Marshall in 2014.
MARSHALL - From near-record economic development to crucial transportation improvements, 2014 is shaping up to be a year full of promise and potential in the city of Marshall.
Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes sat down with the Independent earlier this week to break down what lies ahead for the city this year. A few development projects have already begun, and some are on the brink of getting under way, and there is no doubt 2014 will be a year of change and progress for Marshall and the region.
Here is a look at this year's most recognizable opportunities and initiatives in Marshall, through the eyes of its mayor:
Byrnes said 2014 will be a year of near record economic growth and building activity and expects $40 million to $50 million in building permits. Projects already started or in planning include Running's corporate office and distribution center expansion, Ralco's new facility, Beverage Wholesalers' new distribution facility, Action Manufacturing's new facility, the Avera Cancer Institute, ACMC's surgery center expansion, the Kruse Motors dealerships, the children's wing expansion at the Marshall-Lyon County Library and the Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Complex and MERIT Center classroom and driving track.
"It's a good mix of private investment, manufacturing and commercial development," Byrnes said. "There's a lot of job creation here. They are all great employers for the community. All of these are projects already either started or will start early in 2014. This will be a big year for economic development, growth and new construction."
Securing State Capital Investment funding for the amateur sports complex and MERIT Center
Both projects, Byrnes said, meet the state criteria for job creation, economic development, attraction of visitor dollars from neighboring states and have a 3-to-1 local-to-state investment. The projects have support from local legislators and, according to Byrnes, should receive bipartisan support from the Legislature this year.
"I'm optimistic," Byrnes said. "It still will be hard work to get it done, but this is the year. These projects are ready to go - they're shovel ready. This is our time."
The city is requesting $4.28 million in bonding for the sports complex and $2.5 million for the MERIT Center.
Raw water line
Byrnes called the proposed Sandnes water line one of Marshall's largest public works projects ever and said it will ensure existing industry and future generations will have the resources it needs for Marshall to continue to grow. It comes with a cost, Byrnes said, but is necessary as demonstrated by a unanimous vote of the MMU (Marshall Municipal Utilities) board and city council that authorized the bond sale.
"We're in a community where a lot of our manufacturing is value-added agriculture manufacturing, which takes resources like electricity and water, and this is really planning for the next generation, just as in the 1980s when the expansion to the Dudley aquifer happened," said Byrnes.
Progress is being made in securing investments to improve Minnesota Highway 23 to facilitate freight movement and interregional transportation, Byrnes said. He said 2014 will see the final planning and potential start of construction on Saratoga Street/Highway 23 safety improvements, pedestrian overpass and reduced conflict intersection, and the addition of passing lanes on 23 between Willmar and Interstate 90.
"The new projects will increase employment in the community and we know that transportation is important for businesses to get their products in and out, and that's why improving Highway 23 for truck traffic and having a safe interregional corridor is so important," Byrnes said. "We also know the other highways are also important because people are using those roads every single day for their jobs. We know that half the people who work in Marshall don't live in Marshall. That regional transportation is so important."
Highway 23 was recently recognized as a corridor of commerce by the Department of Transportation and was earmarked for funding for passing lanes in 2015 between Willmar and Interstate 90. A federal grant has also been awarded for safety improvements at the intersection with Saratoga Street.
Continued construction of the Marshall-to-Camden State Park bike trail and other trail improvements to promote active living
Significant progress has been made to add bike and walking trails, said Byrnes, calling it a benefit for people living in the area and a potential destination point for bikers. Byrnes cited the planned overnight stop in July of the MS TRAM, which will bring an estimated 1,200 bike riders and support to the community.
"We (the city, county and DNR) also have another application in for Legacy funds to do some additional completion," Byrnes said. "We anticipate the next phase the county will be working on will be in and through Lynd. The final segment we hope to receive Legacy funds would be the connection in the area between River Road and the Affinity Hills addition. Great progress is being made. This will be good not only for the residents of the region, but I think it will be a destination point for people to come to ride through the area into Camden State Park, which is a gem for the region. It will just provide more access to the park and will be certainly much safer than riding your bike on Highway 23."
Planning and construction of the new municipal liquor store
This project has been discussed by the current and previous city councils and is ready for planning and construction this year, Byrnes said, and a location has been identified in the southern retail area. Byrnes said the current building on East College Drive has served the community well through the goals of controlled access and contributions to the community and noted that more than $300,000 has annually been contributed to the City General Fund which has helped reduce the property tax burden. He said the liquor fund provided $1 million for the construction of the new library, and previously helped pay for past airport improvements and flood control projects. The new location, he said, will have space for a better customer experience and a safer parking area.
"The current store has served the city well, but it's undersized, they're unable to display things properly and the parking and traffic flow is inadequate," Byrnes said. "It's time for new construction. The liquor store has been very useful for the city."
Municipal building assessment
The Municipal building (City Hall) is one example of the challenges the city faces, as it has numerous maintenance and structural issues, including the garage area that was originally constructed as a home to the fire department and police department, which cannot be used due to deterioration of the concrete floor, Byrnes said. The area under the garage area also cannot be used due to safety concerns of falling concrete. The windows and window frames need replacement, the elevator does not meet ADA standards and the HVAC system needs upgrading. Byrnes hopes that in 2014 the city can professionally assess the structural and functional deficiencies and evaluate the costs so it can compare the costs of renovation versus replacement for the 50-year-old building.
"We have deferred maintenance issues with city hall," Byrnes said. "Over the past 20 years as Marshall has grown, we've focused on new projects in the community but have not focused on keeping City Hall up. It's time to really do a thorough investment on what is needed to address some issues we have there. There's also the issue of the functionality of the building for the folks who are working in it and for the public coming into it. Things are different than they were in 1964 - how can we make it more efficient and customer friendly, can we do that in the current building, does that take some renovation and what will the cost be? We need a thorough assessment before we can make an informed decision about what to do with that building."
Community health initiatives
Throughout the years, Byrnes said, numerous health initiatives have focused on active living and improving the environment with the addition of trails and sidewalks so people can be active. Like all long-term initiatives, he said, groups like MyMarshall and Pioneering a Healthier Marshall need support. He said this could possibly be supported through the reserves earmarked for this purpose in the proceeds from the sale of the hospital to Avera.
"We've had initiatives over the years, and it's really probably time to think about what we can do to support them," Byrnes said. "We've operated with great volunteers over the years, but that can only last so long. At some point you really need to provide some support to those volunteers. Even though we're pleased with the health-related amenities we have here, our statistics in the community show we still aren't looking so good. Our obesity levels are higher than the state average. A lot of the measurements that come out - we have room for improvement. Being a community that addresses active living and health is one part of having a healthy community that people would choose to come to stay in and work in."
Community workforce initiatives
Marshall's growth has been a result, in part, to the ability to attract and retain families in the 30- to 50-year-old age range, Byrnes said. Demographers, he said, refer to this as the "brain gain" where families are attracted to communities like Marshall because of employment opportunities, and the amenities and quality of life offered by the community. Byrnes said the city needs to continue to focus on those community aspects that are vital to attracting and retaining families and support initiatives designed to provide the education and training in the region to allow families to stay employed in the region.
"We know we have a lower unemployment rate than the rest of the state, so for businesses to expand, they're going to need access to more employees, so as a community, how can we focus on having that workforce? Part of that is being a type of region that people want to relocate to," Byrnes said. "We have had some success with that. Secondly, we need to work with our public schools and our technical college and Southwest Minnesota State University to be sure the needs of the employers are aligned with the curriculum and training that's being provided. We need employees if we expect businesses to expand."
Byrnes said elections offer the opportunity for citizens to be active in the public process, whether by running for an elective office or becoming more informed on the issues facing the community, state and nation.
"The non-presidential elections sometimes locally don't have as much interest, but are certainly is important," Byrnes said. "It's an opportunity for people to become involved. We need to have people with ideas that want to be involved in the public process and this is the opportunity."
Park and pond naming
Byrnes calls this a "fun item for 2014." Marshall has a new park along Windstar Street that needs a name, preferably one that fits the patriotic theme of other city parks.
"It's more of a lighter issue, but I've asked the Community Services Board to give some leadership to making a recommendation to the city council on this," Byrnes said.
Byrnes also said the new water retention pond at the corner of Minnesota highways 19 and 23 in front of SMSU as well as the large Ditch 62 retention pond north of the university are un-named and suggests the SMSU community could possibly recommend names for those ponds.
The former Wayside Park is now serving as a trailhead for the Marshall-to-Camden Bike Trail and access to the flood control wildlife area and mountain biking trails, and Byrnes said a more fitting and descriptive name for Wayside is needed.
"Wayside Park is more of a trailhead park; that probably needs a name more appropriate to its current purposes," said Byrnes.