Marketing efforts to begin in heart of Loretto
After Clark Lohr was elected to the Loretto City Council, he found himself in the midst of efforts to bring redevelopment to the city’s downtown — a role that he relishes.
And he wants to continue the quest, as redevelopment heads into a new phase — marketing a five property area on County Road 19 to a single developer. “The really fun part of it is the networking and the marketing,” he said.
Lohr has 18 years of experience working as an engineering technician for engineering firms, and he saw a chance to apply his professional expertise to redevelopment in his home town. His day job has him doing many tasks related to bringing a development into being — including designing the layout of a site and related streets, utilities and watershed management.
During his stint with a previous employer, he worked on a proposal for bringing a Target store to Highway 12 in Independence. The parties involved with the proposal could not reach an agreement on finances, sewer and water, so the store never was built.
Now the November election has thrown an unexpected curve into the future of the Redevelopment Advisory Committee (RAC) on which Lohr has been serving as the City Council representative. He lost his bid for the Mayor’s chair and, in the process, gave up his City Council seat. Meanwhile, RAC member Cari Girk won the election for Lohr’s seat.
So, as the Jan. 8 City Council meeting approached, Lohr was looking forward to continuing as a RAC member — this time as a volunteer (if the council approves his application). Also, he was getting ready to report on the conclusion of the planning phase for redevelopment and to make recommendations for marketing efforts. It appeared that Girk and Lohr were likely to switch hats in redevelopment endeavors.
The targeted redevelopment area is located on Medina Street (County Road 19) between Railway Street West and St. Peter Street. It consists of five lots owned by four property owners and spans .82 of an acre. Appraisals for 2010 taxes set the combined market value of the properties at $668,000.
Loretto had an active redevelopment plan in place when Lohr took office in 2009. However, appraisals for the area, then located between Railway Street West and St. John’s Street, were “cost prohibitive” for Loretto, he said.
Then a 2010 fire at the Loretto Apartments bordering on West Railway Street left residents homeless on a bitterly cold December day. After machines removed the old building from the corner, Loretto saw new possibilities for redevelopment and looked at what measures could be taken to secure property. The RAC came into being and began reporting to the City Council.
Applications to the Metropolitan Council produced a Liveable Communities demonstration grant that paid for planning items. They included development of a conceptual site design and financial plan, appraisals of the property and a marketing study assessing the kinds of businesses and residential units that are most likely to be successful in that area. The grant expired on Dec. 31.
The goal is to make the redevelopment area attractive to a developer, Lohr said. Loretto will look for a single developer for the five properties. The plan is for the city to purchase the properties and sell them to the developer.
“For me this has been an incredible learning experience,” he said. “We do have a really clear vision. Our vision is in line with the market study.”
One finding of the market study was that Loretto residents experience an hour’s drive in order to purchase groceries. But a super market would not fit on the .82 acre redevelopment site.
Meanwhile, Loretto does not have a children’s toy store, book store, sporting goods or bike stores. “If businesses are reputable, people will see that they are worth the trip to Loretto,” Lohr said.
Once customers for the new businesses experience Loretto, they will see what it has to offer — small town charm, restaurants, bike and walking trails and town ball games, he said.
The market study also found a demand for market rate housing, Lohr said. So Loretto envisions a building with 12 to 16 second floor walk-up units. The ground floor would house flexible space suitable for office and retail establishments. Eventually, the building could house Loretto City Hall.
He is looking forward to Loretto applying for a development grant, but this process requires the commitment of a developer.
Lohr is enjoying working with RAC members, all of whom have unique expertise to apply to the redevelopment challenge. City Councilor Girk has an architectural background. Katherine Taylor, of Katherine Taylor Homes, works with single family homes, remodelling and commercial building. Deb Johnson is a realtor, and Kent Torve is a civil engineer. “They are a really talented group of volunteers,” Lohr said.
A successful development eventually could bring in $40,000 worth of property taxes for Loretto, he said. But early on, tax increment financing could be on the table and result in a temporary diversion of property tax income into development costs. Also, if Loretto ends up owning the redevelopment property, the city might need to do an environmental study to avoid surprises, such as old underground oil tanks.
Whatever happens, Lohr said, “I want a business in town that directly benefits the people in Loretto.”
Contact Susan Van Cleaf at [email protected]