by Heidi L. Everett
With most of St. Joseph city business happening online and curbside the last year, Mayor Rick Schultz looks forward to real face time to reboot economic activity and community engagement.
Schultz said he is looking forward to when they can hold the all-day city staff meeting face to face, so all who work for the city can share priorities, which projects need to be funded and any concerns. The annual meeting involves all city employees, including volunteers and those who serve on boards and committees.
“That meeting to me is more important than any meeting I do,” Schultz said. “We introduce each other and get new perspectives on what each board is doing.”
Schultz said they are going to wait until the latest set of COVID-19 restrictions are up before scheduling it.
“This year will be really special,” he said. “We have to talk about how we come out of this. How do we draw people back into bars and restaurants?”
The vision will be a little bit different, he said.
The City of St. Joseph does have plans to finish street improvements, put trees back in and complete beautification work, but that money was already allocated.
Community center planning
Conversations about building a community center will resume.
At the Dec. 7 City Council meeting, a buyer was approved for the purchase of the former Kennedy school building at First Avenue SE. The sale of the building will close in January or February, Schultz said.
With the sale of that building, community center planning will shift from a conversation about renovating an old building to new construction on an 8-acre parcel behind the former Kennedy building.
“We have to start from scratch,” Schultz said.
Previous discussions have mentioned a community pool and multi-purpose space for senior activities, among other things.
The community center planning group will be reconvened, and new members will be invited to join the group to offer different perspectives, Schultz said.
If St. Joseph residents have comments and feedback they’d like to share now, they can email the City Administrator Therese Haffner.
Relocating food shelf, historical society
With the sale of the former Kennedy building, the St. Joseph Food Shelf and St. Joseph Historical Society both will need a new home.
“When all of us council members voted to approve the sale of the building, we knew we would have to relocate these services by the end of January,” Schultz said.
This isn’t new news but a new reality.
“We notified them about our intent to sell several months ago and what that might mean,” Schultz said. “When we went through the final papers, we let them know it was a done deal.”
The city has been providing free space and utilities and will work with these organizations to find a new home.
“While these are not city services, they are important,” Schultz said.
Schultz said the city has reached out to the monastery and College of St. Benedict as well as looked for a possible extension of space usage with the new building owners as some of the options.
“Timing is everything when it comes to opportunities for selling and business growth that they are caught up in,” Schultz said. “It’ll all work out, but once we sell the building, it’s up to the new owners what stays.”
Attracting business to industrial park
The Mayor also wants to refocus efforts on attracting new business to the industrial park, which has undergone infrastructure upgrades with money from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
The mayor noted 35-percent of St. Joseph parcels are tax-exempt schools and places of worship.
“A push to get more industrial growth ultimately helps residents and their tax burden,” he said. “We’re going to market that really well.”
Schultz said downtown St. Joseph is experiencing some interest from developers in refurbishing old buildings too.
“We want to keep downtown a walkable city and welcoming,” he said.
Coming out of COVID-19
But the priority is coming out of COVID-19.
“We got a picture of some of the businesses that are struggling,” he said. “If there’s a package yet from the state Legislature, then we’ve got to get some of that grant money for those businesses.”
Despite ongoing COVID restrictions, Schultz is optimistic about the future.
“I feel really good about our position,” he said. “Time will tell how we come out of it.”