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WREDC eyes housing crunch

WORTHINGTON —Abraham Algadi wants a plan.

As the manager of Worthington Regional Development Corp. (WREDC), he knows housing continues to be a major issue in Worthington. At a meeting Thursday, Algadi wants to bring local ideas together to create a plan.

0 Talk about it

“From my perspective and from WREDC’s perspective, we think the time to talk about the problem is over,” Algadi said. “Now it’s time for action.”

Thursday’s meeting —at the Biotechnology Advancement Center — is to convene local professionals in construction, finance and planning to find out why no progress has been made.

“We believe it’s critical to engage partners in the private sector who are in the industry in the finance, planning and on the construction end,” Algadi said. “That is the idea behind getting everybody together from the local market and finding out the answer to the following question: What is it we collectively — the public sector, the private sector —need done in order for them to begin to make serious investments that would make a dent in our $50 million problem?”

Algadi acknowledges there have been plenty of meetings before.

“I want to be very clear in saying this — we have talked and talked and talked about housing at a number of levels,” he said. “We had the Minnesota Housing get-together, we had the housing study.”

That study, completed earlier this year, shows Worthington needs 250 to 260 rental units currently and 175 to 200 houses by 2020.

“Of course, we know that housing has other factors that control it that are beyond our control,” Algadi said. “For instance, interest rates, material costs, transportation costs, fuel costs, affordability. We’re not talking about those things. What we’re saying is we need to understand that baseline for where the market is within southwest Minnesota. We need to understand what role Worthington needs to play in that market and then we need to fulfil that market, both on the rental and owner-occupied.”

Algadi said once the right people can be convened at the same time, there can be some serious movement.

“If we can answer the questions as to why we’re not having investments, then the answer becomes obvious and the course of action becomes obvious,” he said. “The trick here is to bring all this with the city, the private sector, the builders, the bankers and everybody — to put them in the pot at the same time.”

By the end of Thursday’s meeting, Algadi wants a plan.

“There is a danger of people saying, ‘There you go, they are having another meeting.’ I don’t want to waste anybody’s time,” Algadi said. “I don’t think it’s fair to invite builders or invite anybody and say, ‘Tell us about housing,’ and then two months later we haven’t done anything. The purpose of the meeting is to walk out at the end of the meeting with a clear understanding of what it is we need to do and begin to put an action plan in place so by April or May or next year, (where) we really have something that you can drive by and point to and say, ‘Worthington is doing it.’”

For more information on Thursday’s meeting, contact the WREDC at 372-5515.

Troubles for HRA project

While the WREDC is actively pursuing housing options, another project in town has stalled.

According to Randy Thompson, executive director of the Worthington Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), the Rising Sun Estates project isn’t progressing at this time.

“We just have a lot of things on hold right now,” Thompson said. “We don’t have anything moving forward right now.”

Thompson said rising costs have affected the ability to complete the project. In fact, the HRA board may seek out other options of companies to build the proposed complex.

“Right now, I can’t even say that for sure we have a project that’s going to move forward,” he said. “I hate to say that, but that’s kind of where things landed at the end of the meeting (Wednesday). We need to have some more exploration done, and (we need to answer the question) ‘Where are our final numbers going to land?”’

The HRA had discussed asking the city council for more money outside of a $600,000 to $800,000 loan already approved.

“We’re not going to city council with a request because we don’t even have a final project number,” Thompson said. “Now with what has happened with the increase, it really has made the board say, ‘You know what, we probably need to at least explore other options if there is a way to get it done for any less and maintain project quality and integrity.’”

At this point, Thompson is still hopeful construction can begin in the spring.

“It’s just a really frustrating time in this project,” he said. “I’m really not ready to make a whole lot more comments just because of the way things continue to not go the right direction in this project.

“It’s certainly not dead,” Thompson added. “Our HRA board has had a lot of resilience I think in this project to keep it going this far. They just feel there is too much time and dollars that have been spent to this point to not do everything we can possibly do to get this thing done. We don’t want to get ourselves into something we can’t pay for. It still has to work financially.”