City advances promising projects
WORTHINGTON -- According to city administrator Craig Clark, the city of Worthington has a lot to be proud of, especially in the past year.
"There have been some significant steps forward," he said of progress on several city projects. "Significant reinvestments back into the community."
Many of the projects now taking leaps and bounds toward completion have been talked about for years, but it wasn't until recently that tangible headway was made.
"You can really see the fruits of the council's and staff's labor," Clark said.
The most noticeable project for anyone who drives through downtown Worthington regularly would be the new fire station. The beautiful brick building is hard to miss on Second Avenue.
From the outside things look ready to go, but the inside is a beehive of activity as rooms in different stages of construction are completed. Offices, a conference room and the police department substation are still lacking furniture. A set of doors in the tower have yet to be attached, and the large bays for fire trucks stand mostly empty except for construction equipment.
Still, things are coming together nicely, and an open house for the new station is scheduled for Aug. 25.
"A new fire station has been a long time in discussion, but was needed when the apparatus got too large for the previous hall," Clark said.
To keep up with the needs of the community, an aerial truck was added to the department. The new equipment, though, had the old hall busting at the seams, and storage of the apparatus was a problem.
"It was really a safety issue," Clark said.
The new station was built to accommodate future needs and should last a long, long time, Clark added. The tower and training rooms were built with an eye toward keeping the city and regional firefighters prepared to do their jobs, and the conference room is equipped with items needed to use the facility as an emergency operations center in case of a disaster.
"The city hall was where we would currently set up an EOC if necessary, but it wasn't very appropriate," Clark stated.
After talking about building a new station for years, it took the sale of the city hospital to spark the decision.
"(The sale) was a commitment for the council to reinvest in the community," Clark said. "Without the sale, we wouldn't have the new hall."
The commitment was also to the volunteer firefighters, he added, and shows that the city is just as dedicated to the department as its members are to protecting their city.
The new police substation will give the Worthington Police Department a better downtown presence and provide options during bad weather. Officers will be able to interview people and work on reports without having to run out to Prairie Justice Center.
Changes at the BAC
Another noticeable change in Worthington is at the Biotechnology Advancement Center (BAC) in the Bioscience Park, a vision that started with the Blandin Foundation and included the help of the Worthington Rural Economic Development Corp. (WREDC).
The city received state and federal grants to add research and classroom space, which is complete.
"The lab space is just roughed in, with a concrete floor, until we determine the needs of occupants," Clark said.
The University of Minnesota Extension offices moved into the BAC this past winter, and other occupants are being sought. The city is working on a lease agreement with Bioverse Inc.
Another project that has been completed, but may not be as noticeable to the average citizen, is the new hangar at the Worthington Regional Airport. A new chemical loading pad was added, along with a warehouse to store chemicals safely. The pad added a more efficient way to load chemicals.
"The ag spraying business isn't going anywhere soon," Clark said. "The new hangar was built to accommodate a bigger plane and provide a basis for pilots who need more space."
The airport also added a new fueling truck.
"We are a significant player in regional air travel," Clark said. "The airport sees a lot of traffic and has an important part in the growth of the city."
It's hoped that people of Worthington will start to see work this fall near the airport, which is on U.S. 59 at 27th Street. Turn lanes and acceleration lanes will be added, sewer and water is being brought to that point and the ditches will be realigned to help with drainage.
A grant agreement still needs to be finalized so bid dates can be set, but the city hopes to see preliminary grading by the fall and completion during the 2013 construction season.
"We hope to mirror the success we've seen with growth on the south side of I-90," Clark said.
Construction recently began on the new senior center -- another project that has been years in the making -- and the city is hoping to see a completion date in late December or early January.
The center will be downtown on 11th Street where the YMCA once stood. The new building will add about 2,800 square feet, which broadens the use of the building to more than cards and pool games, Clark said.
"It adds a multi-generational component," he explained. "We're looking at moving the programming forward, and (coordinator) Julia Seykora will do a great job with that."
There will be a learning curve involved as those who use the center figure out what does and doesn't work, and individuals can take ideas and programming under their wing, Clark said.
"It takes participants to make it go, so we'll have to see what they want in there," he added.
Seykora is looking at adding cooking, art and computer classes, and said the possibilities are endless. A transition plan is being put together to move the seniors and programs to the new center, which will give the seniors a permanent home.
For those needing a home away from home, there is the long-planned event center and hotel project to be located on U.S. 59 north of the Bioscience Park.
Adoption of the half-cent sales tax was the floodgate to moving things forward on a project that had been discussed for a long time, Clark said.
The center would provide a venue for many events, from weddings to regional conferences, in a first-class facility.
"It will be aesthetic -- a well-appointed facility the community can be proud of," Clark said.
It took a while to find the right fit for the public-private venture, but the city finally signed a memorandum of understanding with Lexington Hotel Development (LHD), which plans to build a 75-room Comfort Suites Hotel next to the center.
"It will be of incredible benefit to the community," Clark said.
LHD was able to purchase the property for the property for the hotel for $1, tax increment funding was utilized and the city voted to provide a $400,000 bridge loan to LHD until more shares in the development can be sold. Construction should start by the end of August, and the hopes are that the hotel will be open by late April or early May 2013. At least 19 full-time jobs will be created by the opening of the Comfort Inn Suites.
An event center, Clark said, has been an idea in the heads of many people since the Coliseum Ballroom closed several years ago.
All of these projects are being built with an eye toward the future of Worthington, Clark said, and each one is something that the citizens of Worthington "can point to with quite a bit of pride."