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Citizens express concerns about DQ purchase

The closing date for the City of New Richmond's purchase of the Dairy Queen property on the north side of town is set for May 17, but a pair of citizens made a last ditch plea to the city council at its May 8 regular council meeting hoping to persuade them to reconsider the purchase, or at least delay the purchase until more public comments can be solicited.

"I would request that the City of New Richmond consider delaying the purchase of this property until there is time for more public comment,' said resident John Walsh. "It will be too late for the public to make their opinions heard by the time of the listening session on May 22."

Walsh said when the city purchases the Dairy Queen property there will no longer be any taxes collected from that property, which means less money for the city as a whole. Money would also then be spent on upkeep/maintenance, as well as demolition if they so choose, Walsh said, which will come out of the taxpayers pockets as well.

"It is the opinion of many residents that the city should not be real estate speculators and that real estate should be open to the free market system, and not expose New Richmond citizens to the risk involved with speculation of a commercial property," said Walsh. "I was made aware that the purchase price for this property is $175,000 and that they are set to close on May 17. I was also informed that there are no plans in place for the future use of this real estate....There appears to be no logical reason that buying this property will encourage development on the north side."

The city decided earlier this month to convert the May 22 work session to a listening session to allow citizens to ask questions of city staff and elected officials, as well as share their thoughts and ideas for the north side of New Richmond. The session is scheduled to run 5:30-7 p.m. in the council chambers at the Civic Center.

"The council wants to take a couple months with the north side to figure out the vision for its future," City Administrator Mike Darrow said. "We are excited to close on the property, which will happen in the next couple weeks. We are also really looking forward to allowing the community to have their say and have a conversation with them about not only the Dairy Queen location, but the whole of the north side corridor."

Those with questions about the listening session can contact Darrow at 715-243-0401 or mdarrow@newrichmondwi.gov.

The second citizen to bring forward concerns about the Dairy Queen purchase was Bill Derrick, who felt the city should stay out of the development business.

"We find it hard as a private company to compete with the city which pays no taxes on the properties they purchase," said Derrick. "About 12 years ago, we had this commercial plot laid out and the city took it upon themselves to change the rules on what we would have to do to that plot. I don't know how you can do that if you have an approved plot and everything is ready to go. The buyer ended up pulling out because they didn't want to put up with the changes. After 50 years, it is hard to stay in business and find success if you are fighting with the city. It is time, I think, that the city gets out of development and go back to running the city of New Richmond, while letting private investors run the development end."

Several council members responded to Derrick and Walsh's comments. Alderman Mike Montello adamantly disagreed with the claim that the city is attempting to compete with private developers.

"I think that the input both of you are offering is valuable, but I want to try to change the conversation a bit," Montello said. "The city is not trying to compete with any developer. I'll tell you that right now. That is not what this is about. It is about trying to fix something so that private developers want to move in. That is what this is really about. It is not about building a strip mall there....We are open to best use opportunities. There are a lot of things at stake here that are not about the city trying to compete with private developers. This has nothing to do with that."

Council members also pointed out that there is no way to stop the closing on the property because the city has already signed a contract to close May 17.

"I can tell you that we have received a number of phone calls with people wanting the city to purchase the Dairy Queen and asking why the city isn't working to fix up the north side. Asking why the city isn't investing in the north side," said Mayor Fred Horne. "I know that it is the nature of the beast to get blasted from both sides, no matter what you do, but this is the start of something that will benefit the city and the north side."

New library

The City of New Richmond also took a big step forward with its plans for the new library by approving the request from Friday Memorial Library Director Kim Hennings for proposals for architectural services for the library.

"This is the very first step of moving forward with a new library. In order to really start the process of fundraising, we need conceptual designs to be able to show people," said Hennings. "The services we would be using would result in a rendering of the new library, which would be a big picture look at the project, not what the whole project will look like or what each room will look like."

According to Hennings, proposals will be accepted until 5 p.m. June 9, with interviews to be conducted June 16-26. Hennings expects that the library board and city council will have the final proposal for approval of the architect before the regular library board meeting June 27.

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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