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Expansion projects moving ahead

Expansion projects (two almost underway and one proposed) were the main focus of city meetings Monday night.

At a 5 p.m. Planning Commission meeting, the site plan and stormwater review was approved for Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College's planned expansion this summer and fall. The project will include about 10,000 square feet of new space (a two-story, 5,000-square-foot addition) and renovation of its existing structure.

The entire project is projected to cost about $2.3 million, with projected costs for new space at about $1.5 million.

Later, at the regular City Council meeting at 7 p.m., elected officials dealt with issues related to the expansion and renovation project at the New Richmond Area Centre.

The council approved a resolution designating the old armory section of The Centre as "blighted" allowing for a redevelopment district to be established for that project.

Because it qualifies for the redevelopment designation, The Centre is better able to gain favorable financing via bonding.

The council also approved a certified survey map for The Centre property, which officially separates the facility from the adjoining Citizen's Field property. City officials have been working to create two separate properties so that, as The Centre mortgages its building to allow for the expansion and improvements, Citizen's Field remains on its own.

At a Finance Committee meeting at 6 p.m., council members discussed a possible expansion and renovation project at Johnson Motor Sales in New Richmond.

Greg Anderson, general manager of Johnson's, acknowledged that the car dealership's project would benefit from the city's incentive program that waives impact fees and sewer access charges for building projects. The savings for the developer would be about $8,000.

But Anderson and city officials discussed if there were other incentives the community might offer to make their project and similar projects proposed by existing businesses more palatable.

"We're not looking for special treatment," Anderson said. "We're just open to your thoughts."

Planning and Community Development Director Robert Barbian said the council could consider waiving building permit fees or offer other incentives to encourage expansion ideas and renovation projects.

Council member Kirk Van Blaircom said whatever the city does for Johnson's, they have to be ready to do for other businesses. He did admit that if a new company were looking to move to New Richmond, the city likely would offer an incentive package that is more valuable than what is typically offered to existing businesses looking to expand.

"If it's a new business coming to town, we'd probably be more accommodating," he said.

Van Blaircom said existing businesses are important job creators in the community and the city should do everything it can to help them remain profitable.

"These businesses are the backbone of the community," he said.

But council member Jane Hansen cautioned that the city can't give everything away when a business decides to expand. She said the city already has waived the impact fees and sewer access charges, which amounts to a pretty nice incentive.

The committee decided to take no action on the matter, deciding instead to discuss a possible new policy dealing with incentive packages for existing businesses.

Anderson said the dealership hasn't committed to the project just yet. Bids on the construction and renovation are due this week and the project could be between $1.2 million and $1.7 million. The project, if pursued, would add 2,500 square feet of space, renovate 9,000 square feet of existing space and create a new building entrance and driveway entrance to the property.

In other business:

• The council adopted a conceal and carry policy for city buildings. The policy allows for the posting of signs prohibiting the presence of guns in city buildings and at special events. The policy will not seek to limit guns carried in city parks. The council also adopted a new policy prohibiting employees from carrying guns in the workplace, unless an employee gets special permission to carry a weapon from the city administrator.

• The council approved the appointment of Dan Casey to the Utility Commission. Casey replaces former mayor Ken Cernohous, who recently passed away.

• The council approved $100 to help the Government Entities Network pay for advertisements related to the upcoming nursing home referendum on the April 2 ballot. Mayor Fred Horne said the advertising would not encourage voters to cast their ballot for or against the referendum, but would simply encourage voters to be informed and cast their vote.

• Approved the employment agreement for the new administrator and utilities manager. Mike Darrow, who currently works as administrator at Gilbert, Minn., is expected to begin his New Richmond career on April 23.

• Mayor Horne reported that a new boundary agreement between the city and the Town of Star Prairie is completed. Two upcoming open houses are planned to answer questions about the agreement. Both will be held at the Town of Star Prairie Hall - from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, March 25, and from 4:30-6 p.m. Tuesday, March 27. A public hearing will follow the March 27 open house. Once the hearing is completed, the agreement will be considered for final approval by the township and the city.