The Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce and RE/MAX Realty hosted a joint mayoral “State of the Cities” lunch on Wednesday, March 1 at River Oaks Golf Course. The event gave the mayors of St. Paul Park, Newport, and Cottage Grove the chance to voice their thoughts on the current trajectories of their cities, as well as offering a Q&A session for attendees and local business representatives after the mayors’ speeches.
Speaking were St. Paul Park’s mayor Sandi Dingle and Newport’s mayor Laurie Elliott. Cottage Grove’s mayor Myron Bailey was unable to attend at the last minute, but speaking in his stead was Cottage Grove City Administrator Jennifer Levitt.
An assistant from US House Rep. Angie Craig’s office was in attendance, as well as newly-elected Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham, city staff members, police, and members of various local businesses.
After an introduction by RE/MAX’s Justin and Sonya Fox, giving an outline of recent housing trends across the three cities, the floor was given to each mayor/mayoral representative to give an update on their city.
Dingle spoke first, saying, “The city of St. Paul Park is a community with a broad range of housing, and a long-term commitment to both economic and ecological balance that allows a harmonious development, while retaining small town character and a connection to the river.” She outlined upcoming infrastructure projects, including a $2.8 million street improvement project and a water main project connecting their final well to the treatment facility, which will be paid for by the recent 3M PFAS settlement at an approximate cost of $7 million.
Also outlined was a pending Third Street repair project.
“Third Street is a street that has taken a beating from gravel trucks over the years and is in need of repair,” said Dingle. “And so, we've actually contacted our legislators. And we do have about $7 million in the bonding bill to hopefully get that project done. So, fingers crossed, we can get that done.”
She noted improvements to their existing park system and trails and plans for 120 new apartments to be built in the city.
“That's a big development for St. Paul Park,” she said, “because as you all know, we're kind of landlocked and not a lot of room to grow, so I think that that will really help provide some much-needed diversity in housing for our residents. And I'm really excited about that. I hope we can see that through to the end.”
Elliott spoke next, giving some historical background of the city and what they have planned for the city’s future. One of the main projects Elliott discussed was the recently-built Newport City Hall/Municipal Building. The previously-utilized building was built in 1903, having long been outgrown and fallen into disrepair.
The new building complex is a mark of pride for the city. Combining city hall, fire department, law enforcement, training facilities, offices, council chambers, and a new media center, the building provides a modern work environment for city staff. The complex cost approximately $8 million, $7.2 million of which was bonded, at a cost of only $2 per Newport homeowner per year.
Levitt spoke next, relaying mayor Bailey’s regrets for being unable to attend. Her comments largely echoed Bailey’s “State of the City” address given on Feb. 1, including updates on housing and industrial expansion in the city. Noting that the population of Cottage Grove is now estimated at 41,000, it is one of the fastest growing cities in the state. New affordable housing and market-rate high-density developments aim to continue the growth, along with new businesses and industrial expansions that currently define Cottage Grove’s direction. She also touched on a focus of tourism and the city’s active lobbying of the hotel industry for new options for guests to stay in the area.
In the Q&A portion of the meeting, each speaker was afforded time to discuss progress and current city needs and goals.
Elliot brought up metro transit expansions, property available for sale to small businesses in Newport, as well as Xcel renewable energy programs, a dog park, and park maintenance.
She said, “As a small city, we really embrace small business. I mentioned our survey from 18 months ago. One of the reasons people really love living in Newport is that small town feel. And we sit and border a community of 380,000 people and we still feel like a small town.”
Dingle mentioned revitalizing Hastings Avenue on the east side of Highway 61.
“These roads have been mixed-use for about 15-20 years,” she said. “We’re finding it’s not creating a very cohesive look to the community, so we want to look at our zoning more carefully. We want to start grouping similar-type businesses; retail, auto business, etc. in our community, and our conditional-use permit process as well.”
Levitt raised Cottage Grove’s gains in industrial job creation in the Business Park along with other businesses like restaurants and child care centers that are moving into the city. High-density housing development and hundreds of housing permits are aiming to increase the population and create more opportunities for people that want to call Cottage Grove home. New restaurants like Pizza Ranch, Thai Garden, and Jersey Mike’s will offer more dining options for residents too.
All three speakers discussed roads, parks, and infrastructure upgrades as major goals to keep the cities on the upswing.
Asked what they were most proud of during their tenure, each highlighted unique takes on their cities’ accomplishments and goals.
Levitt, as City Administrator, praised “the team that Cottage Grove has put together. One of the things that I’m really proud of is the way that we work well together.” She added, “We’re all striving for the same success. It’s all about level of service and how we provide great service to our residents and our businesses, and I think that’s one of the things that we excel at.”
She noted that the city’s coming Glacial Valley Park and Mississippi Dunes Park developments will offer a great resource to residents as they reach completion. She emphasized a goal of creating more of a “city center” based around the Shoppes at Cottage View project planned at East Point Douglas Road and Highway 19, near Walmart.
Dingle highlighted success in lowering assessed dollars-per-resident for street maintenance from 100% to 33% in St. Paul Park.
“Thinking about it from a mayoral standpoint, I think that getting together with the city of Cottage Grove, I think collaboration and partnerships are so great,” she said. “Working as a kind of a sub-group of their yellow-ribbon committee, helping veterans and their families is something that’s near and dear to my heart.”
She expressed interest in expanding the city’s park trails system to capitalize on the natural resources the area has to offer.
Elliott touched on clean water, the new city hall, and park/playground updates in Newport as points of pride in her tenure.
“At Pioneer playground we were actually taking playground equipment out because it was no longer safe,” she said.
She laid out plans for a rehab of line sewer t-lines, a $2 million project funded by the 3M contamination settlement. Having stairs replaced at Lions Levee Park and getting the Newport Park & Ride running again full-time post-pandemic were also stated goals.
At the close of the meeting, local business representatives were encouraged to stay and mingle, and ask any questions that might help foster the growth of the local tri-city partnership.