Sale of Twiford redevelopment land complete

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS The back view of the Twiford redevelopment land shows trees being removed to make way for dirt work to address elevation issues ahead of a Dollar General store being built.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS The Chatfield city garage has been emptied before demolition to prepare for construction of the new Dollar General store on the Twiford redevelopment land.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Generally speaking, there’s finally going to be another new place to put one’s dollar.

Chatfield Economic Development Director Chris Giesen reported that the city of Chatfield and its and economic development authority (EDA) closed on the purchase of the Twiford redevelopment property on Monday, July 29. The lot is located just south of Sunshine Foods, just off Highway 52 in Chatfield, where a Dollar General store is anticipated to be constructed and opened shortly after Christmas.

“The city has planned redevelopment for that block for at least a couple of decades, setting the future land use and zoning as commercial in the 1990s or so,” Giesen said. “The city purchased the first property in about 2004 when it became available, and then the remaining properties in about 2011 and 2013 when they became available. The idea has always been to consolidate the numerous small parcels as it would be difficult for the private sector to do so – especially given the additional site development challenges such as elevation changes, and as we later found out, title issues.”

The store’s construction has been a long time coming, as Giesen noted, but the redevelopment of the property itself was something else about which to be excited, as several years ago, Chatfield received a $233,000 Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) grant to install the infrastructure necessary to make way for a business to locate there.

“We received about $233,000 to move and improve public utilities. Without the grant, this project would have been very difficult to achieve,” he added.

Over the years, Giesen has fielded interest from various kinds of developers who felt the plot would be ideal for different uses.

“We had Family Dollar, Cobblestone Hotels and Dollar General negotiating development agreements, and two other developers had expressed serious interest in other potential projects that didn’t materialize, as well,” Giesen said. “This is actually the third Dollar General developer to look at building in Chatfield, in addition to the Family Dollar folks. This current DG developer started looking at this site about a year and a half ago.”

While the EDA and city were working with the Dollar General developers, there came some obstacles, such as the five-year fulfillment expiration date on the DEED grant and the title issues that accompanied the assemblage of parcels of land that had belonged to private citizens, the railroad and to the gas company.

Giesen navigated these to the best of his ability, reporting back to the EDA and City Council as necessary. “I notified DEED and our elected representatives in St. Paul that the property sale is complete now. I’ve asked that our next payment, which is due Aug. 15, be forgiven as the development is moving forward. However, this might be denied, as the original understanding between DEED and the city was that the grant would be converted into a 0 percent loan and payments would be made twice a year until paid off or development construction is completed. At worst, we shouldn’t have to make any additional payments to DEED after this one in August, as the Dollar General project will be finished in December of this year. Looking at it from a positive perspective, the city needed to redo that section of Twiford Street anyway, and this grant – even though we had a couple of repayments due – those repayments were at 0 percent interest, which saved the city that interest cost it would have had if we had done it on our own. Once construction is completed, the ‘loan’ will be converted back into a grant and no payments will be due.”

He added, “It took about six months to get enough of the title issues resolved so that the project could move forward. We are still working to acquire a 15-feet by 20-feet triangle of land that last changed hands in 1878 to the Chatfield Railroad Company. The Union Pacific Railroad is the successor owner and they haven’t been very reasonable in our negotiations. We are still working on resolving this issue. On another parcel we had issues with, we were really happy that Ferrell Gas was so accommodating in resolving issues that affected their lot. We had two amendments to the purchase agreement and two amendments to the development agreement – they addressed technical issues that came up mostly because of the title issues. The amendments didn’t change the meaning or spirit of the original deal.”

Passersby will likely notice that the developer is wasting no time, given that it’s already August and there’s plenty to be done before the weather turns colder.

Giesen observed, “They’ve already started cutting trees down – Tuesday, actually – and they might start demolition of the houses yet this week. They are going to start moving quickly. The houses will be demoed, and I’m not sure what trees will be cut down, but given the amount of dirt work they need to do, I’m guessing they will have to completely re-landscape. They’ll need to move the electric poles that run through the site and dig their new water and sewer services in, but the infrastructure is pretty much set. They need to be finished with construction by Dec. 31, 2019, but they hope to be done earlier in December.”

The EDA director remarked that the arrival of Dollar General in Chatfield will offer yet another shopping option.

“We hope it adds another service to the community and another opportunity to stay in town to shop. I’ve had some people concerned about the impact of the store, and we did take those potential impacts into consideration, but in the end, the EDA and council felt that this was a net benefit to residents and the community,” Giesen said. “It’s another element to our community. It helps change the idea of what is possible downtown and will help encourage the expansion of downtown. I hope the improvements made will spark additional redevelopment and confidence in our local economy.”

Giesen cited that he’d lost some hope for the dollar store’s construction at numerous times during the negotiations necessary to make it possible, but he’s pleased to be proven wrong.

“Honestly, I thought this project was dead more times than I can count, but we kept moving forward and working together to get to a point where the issues were behind us,” he said. “I have to give a lot of credit to our city attorney, Fred Suhler, Jr., and the city engineering team at WSB — Matt Mohs and Jeff Rolfson in particular, for all of their technical skills and advice making this project happen, as well as to the EDA and council for their leadership and willingness to be creative. Most of all, I have to give credit to the developers – DGI – they were really great to work with. There were a lot of people helping this project. It’s moving forward, and the EDA is looking forward to working on our next goals.”

Giesen concluded, “It feels good to have crossed our finish line on this project, but we have a lot more work to do. We need to keep moving forward with other projects such as providing more options for housing and residential growth, work on attracting a hotel and working with the numerous developers and residents that have ideas for projects to make them happen. We also want to keep working with existing business owners to help them out with whatever their needs are, too.”