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Citizens file in for public hearings

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WORTHINGTON — Two public hearings had citizens filing into Worthington City Hall during Worthington City Council’s Monday night meeting. 

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At the conclusion of the first hearing, the council approved the sale of an east 305-foot lot in the Bioscience Industrial Park to PurNet Inc., a local medical device and supply company. The lot equates to an estimated 1.6 acres.

PurNet intends to construct a 10,000-square-foot office building for its company’s operations and wants to acquire enough land to allow for the construction of an additional 10,000 square feet of office in the future. The established asking price for the property is $145,309.

While council members were in favor of the project, there was some question as to whether PurNet fit the vision of the developing Bioscience Park, and if the remaining 1.1 acres would be enough room for another business.

“My main concern is that we set a vision for this property, and we’ve been working on this vision for a long period of time, and the vision was that corridor coming off of (Interstate) 90 would be visible commercial, and it’s important that we recognize that if we’re going to set a vision,” said council member Ron Wood.

“I support the expansion of this business, but a vision and a plan isn’t worth two cents if you don’t follow through,” Wood added.

The long-term vision for the lots was to provide commercial and hospitality development opportunities that complement and support the bioscience businesses, capture the visibility and accessibility of the property from U.S. 59, extend the synergy started with the new developments in that area and leverage the said investments to attract additional bioscience companies.

Council member Diane Graber had a different take on the company moving into the lot.

“Things that appeal to me about this situation (are) that it’s local and I think it does provide some synergy if you consider that there are over 20 people working there plus any other energy that’s going on. That will produce business,” Graber said.

Council member Scott Nelson said there needed to be a compromise for the situation.

“If PurNet could settle in the 275- to 280-feet range, it could be a compromise, and we can both go forward,” Nelson said.

Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. (WREDC) Manager Abraham Algadi spoke on the issue.

“We (WREDC) urge you (city council) to approve it for the sake of sending the right message. We’re talking about a building that will have a fitting architectural style, that will fit with the rest of the development, fits the zoning, and it generates activity,” Algadi said.

Numerous PurNet employees attended the meeting as Darlene Vortherms, company owner, made a brief statement before the council's decision.

“I just want to help Worthington grow. As PurNet grows, so will you (city). I think that when people travel on (U.S.) 59, people will drive by and say, ‘They’re doing something right,’” Vortherms said.

Ultimately council decided to approve the motion, with the amended changes that a shared easement be created so that the parking lot will be shared by PurNet and a possible additional business that could move into the west end of the lot. Part of the agreement was that the company must agree to create seven full-time jobs with a minimum wage of at least $10 per hour. Council amended that in the final decision to $12 per hour.

Citizens were also in attendance for a public hearing regarding improvements on Grand Avenue by street and sidewalk extensions.

From Grand Avenue to Darling Drive, the project would improve the street by grading, base construction, curb and gutter construction and surfacing. The second part of the project is constructing sidewalks on Grand Avenue from Oxford Street to Darling Drive.

Council received an estimated cost analysis for improving the streets and sidewalks with bituminous pavement or concrete, both equating to more than $1 million for each option.

Concerns over the cost of assessments for business owners was addressed during the hearing.

Steve Johnson, owner of Johnson Builders and Realtors, asked council not to extend all the way to Darling Drive, due to the high assessments it would cost the business.

“We’re just not ready for that expenditure. We have no development plans on that property, so we’re asking you (council) to consider that,” Johnson said.

Jesse Drost, a deacon at the American Reformed Church, echoed Johnson’s plea.

“This would be a pretty big financial burden on the American Reformed Church, and we would gain the least from this, but we are the third-largest assessment being made,” Drost said.

Dwayne Haffield, director of engineering for Worthington, said there was no provision in the law for changing assessment rates for non-profit organizations.

A deferment option could be available, however, council indicated that no matter what, the project would eventually move forward.

“Both parties need to understand that this is going to happen. It’s no different than the extension of Ryan’s Road where it used to end just past the end of the Laundromat parking lot. … At some point, it’s going to happen. So I guess the word to the church is to save your money, because it’s going to happen at some point,” said Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh.

“We can maybe buy you 15 or 20 years, but something is going to develop on that mall property, and when it does, it will precipitate the completion of that road,” Oberloh added.

Council voted to continue the hearing and requested bids for the project from the end of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership lot on Grand Avenue through Darling Drive.

In other business, council tabled action on new Worthington entrance signs.

Following the change in pricing from the previous Fullerton Building Systems’ alternative for the city’s three entrance signs, the determination was to proceed with an option using Wells Concrete in which it would supply the face of the sign, or interior portion, with the Worthington script recessed in the concrete panel rather than the raised aluminum lettering, and having Reitmeier Masonry erect the side brick pillars. The total cost of the project would be about $120,000.

The council at first leaned toward the Wells Concrete option due to longevity, durability and low maintenance, according to City Administrator Craig Clark.

Council tabled the decision pending more information on pricing from Fullerton Building Systems. The motion passed on a 4-1 vote, with council member Rod Sankey voting in opposition.

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Erin Trester
Erin Trester is the crime and city reporter for the Daily Globe. She's a native of Lewiston, MN, but moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college and obtained her bachelor's degree in Communications. She started at the Western New York Catholic Newspaper as a reporter in Buffalo, but in October 2013 she returned to her home state to start with the Daily Globe. Most of her spare time is taken up by her 12 year old thoroughbred named Faith, but some of her other hobbies include reading, fishing and spending time with friends and family. 
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