Tracy looking to the past and future

Taking different approaches to boost downtown

Photo by Deb Gau A study found more than two dozen properties in Tracy’s downtown area could potentially form part of a historic commercial district. It’s one strategy the city hopes to pursue as it plans for future economic development

TRACY — The city of Tracy is looking for ways to support economic growth in its downtown

But one challenge will be finding ways to help businesses move in and develop existing properties, Tracy City Administrator Erik Hansen said.

Hansen said the city has been taking a couple of different approaches to help address the situation. Tracy’s downtown area is one part of the community being included in a new city comprehensive plan.

Tracy is also researching the possibility of starting a downtown historic district, which Hansen said could give property owners a chance at getting financial help to refurbish buildings.

Hansen said the new Tracy comprehensive plan is anticipated to be finished this spring. The Tracy city charter requires the city to have a comprehensive plan. Comprehensive plans not only help Minnesota cities make decisions about land use, but they help shape cities’ future goals.

Last year, Tracy conducted a city-wide survey and held focus groups to hear what local residents wanted to see in the community. Residents showed interest in areas like Tracy city parks, growing Tracy’s population, and redevelopment of the downtown business area.

Reid Kimball is one Tracy business owner who has been working for the past couple of years to renovate a downtown building — a former Asian market on Third Street. Kimball originally planned to start a laundromat there, but the building wasn’t suitable for it. He still owns the Third Street building.

Kimball said a challenge facing communities like Tracy is finding a way to encourage retail and other businesses to come to a small town.

“It’s hard to get people to some of these downtowns if they’re not on the highway,” he said.

Hansen said Tracy’s downtown area will specifically be included in the city’s new comprehensive plan.

“Right now we are in the middle of putting together the draft goals and will begin writing the plan. That’s the final step before we present it to the planning commission and city council,” Hansen said.

At the same time the city has been going through the comprehensive planning process, a survey of potential historic buildings was conducted in the downtown area. Designating more historic buildings or a historic district downtown might give future developers help in the form of tax credits to rehab existing buildings, Hansen said.

For the past 10 years, Minnesota has had an incentive for that kind of renovation, in the form of a historic structure rehabilitation tax credit. The tax credit is set to sunset in June, unless the Minnesota Legislature extends it.

The first phase of a historic building study in Tracy was completed this fall, with the help of a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society.

“We looked at two different areas,” said Valerie Quist, who worked with the city to write grant requests for the project.

The survey found a total of 28 properties along Third Street in Tracy that were recommended for additional study as a potential commercial historic district.

One building, the former First National Bank — now Bonnie & Clyde’s Bar & Grill — is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The survey also recommended some additional historic structures for study, including the band shell in Tracy’s Central Park, and the Tracy Municipal Building and Veterans Memorial Center.

Tracy hopes to be able to refurbish the Municipal Building and VMC. In 2020, the city received funding form Lyon County to help make the facility more wheelchair-accessible. A historic building designation might also bring opportunities to help update the building, Hansen and Quist said.

Kimball said he wasn’t certain if having a historic district would be a big draw for development downtown. When it came to the building he was restoring, he said, “It really has to do with salability and rentability,” to find a buyer or tenants.

However, a tax break might give downtown development a push, Kimball said. He said there are positive things about Tracy’s downtown.

There are a lot of buildings that are occupied, and the recent work on the streets and sidewalks looks good.

“Maybe we’re on the right track,” he said.


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