Downtown development: Big changes proposedComments made at the Sept. 6 Plan Commission meeting made it public that EconoFoods’ parent company, Nash Finch, would like to redevelop its site at Main and Walnut streets, including the land where Lund’s Hardware sits.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Comments made at the Sept. 6 Plan Commission meeting made it public that EconoFoods’ parent company, Nash Finch, would like to redevelop its site at Main and Walnut streets, including the land where Lund’s Hardware sits.
Nash Finch Director of Treasury and Real Estate Craig Root told commission members as he described the potential redevelopment: “We are also considering purchase of the Lund’s Hardware store and the two stores adjacent to it.”
He said the company plans to redevelop its grocery store into a Family Fresh market, the same format it’s had in Hudson for four years and in New Richmond for two.
The project would include razing Lund’s and the other buildings on the site to create more parking, in addition to revamping the entire store.
Owner of the longtime Lund’s Hardware store, Fred Benson, said due to a confidentiality agreement, he could only confirm that there’s been negotiations and that a potential deal looks favorable.
The Journal contacted Nash Finch for comment and more information about the development but did not receive a reply before deadline.
Root and two Nash Finch associates attended the Plan Commission meeting to advocate for the creation of new Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district #9, which would include the grocery store property and provide some incentives that would help the company redevelop its prominent downtown site.
The Plan Commission voted unanimously to approve creation of the TIF. Project planners anticipated that the matter would go to the City Council for a vote at its Oct. 11 meeting.
Creating TIF #9 would make a special tax district for the next 27 years that extends from Walnut Street to just south of West Cascade Avenue and includes most properties from Main Street west to the Kinnickinnic River. Nash Finch would redevelop about eight acres and, over time, more than double the taxable value of the land from $3 million to about $7 million.
The city would buy from the company a 1.8-acre piece of riverfront property for $325,000.
That piece would someday be used to extend the White Pathway around Lake George.
The deal would also pay as development incentive to Nash Finch, whatever taxes the improved property generated during the first 8-10 years of the TIF district’s life -- in this case an estimated $686,000.
Director of Construction Bill Pew explained about the store concept, “The square footage will remain the same. Efficiency would be improved.”
He said Frisbie Architects is helping Nash Finch develop the concept that will include remodeling the entire store, changing around product, and adding a fresh-meat counter, a bakery, a café/coffee/sushi area and a new produce department.
He said the big project would also involve replacing equipment as well as removing all the old, wood siding.
“I think we have done 51 different floor plans,” said Pew.
Mark Paschke from Frisbie told the Plan Commission: “It’s a redevelopment of a major portion of our downtown,” adding that the site hasn’t been touched for nearly 30 years.
He said the proposed project would also include traffic improvements like better access.
If implemented, the project would close the Main Street entrance and create a new access point from Walnut Street.
The plan calls for a new traffic signal at the corner of Main and Walnut streets.
Planners ask questions
Plan Commission members asked questions after the public hearing about creation of TIF district #9 and before voting on the matter.
Would the development would mean more full-time employees, and would Nash Finch hire local contractors for the project?
Pew said there was no commitment to increase the number of employees, that the number wouldn’t decrease, and that Nash Finch would use local contractors where “practical and cost effective.”
Pew pointed out that the company is already working with local Frisbie on the concept plan for the potential development.
Would all the current tenants of the shopping mall remain?
Pew said he’s only sure about Pizza Hut because he knows it has a contract.
Asked specifically about the future of the YMCA in the existing mall, he said nothing has been included or excluded for certain. "The reality is, they're not paying rent right now and that's obviously a concern," said Pew.
Plan commission member Erin Tomlinson quickly added that the YMCA is paying its utility costs, however.
He confirmed that the building has a total of 19,000-square feet, which would leave enough room for another business to be in the redeveloped mall.
Municipal-finance consultant Sean Lentz of Ehlers and Associates explained more about the creation of the TIF districts, which he clarified does not affect the tax rate.
Dick Rinehart, owner of Dick’s Fresh Market, another grocery store in River Falls, asked to learn more about the potential deal and how TIF districts are created.
Rinehart said he’s been in business 29 years and has invested millions of dollars into his business. He guessed that maybe his site had never qualified as “blighted” -- one of the conditions that can warrant creating a TIF district.
Lentz explained that there are a number reasons for which a tax-increment finance district can be created, and one of them is to eliminate a blighted area -- at least 50% of the area must fall under the definition. The land in a TIF district must also be contiguous.
In this case the TIF boundary would be an area roughly bounded by Walnut to the north, Main Street the east, the Kinnickinnic River to the west and Vine/State streets to the south.
It was confirmed among meeting attendees that discussion about the deal began after Nash Finch approached the city.
Even now, the potential deal is a long way from being “done.”
Before construction could begin, the City Council must first approve creation of the TIF district, then the Plan Commission and council would need to approve Nash Finch’s development plan for the site.