Future residents of Brainerd may look at the current city map and find it a small by comparison.
It could be three to four times smaller than the area covered by the city in 2020. That land mass is equivalent to 15 to 20 square miles.
Expanding the city by a two-mile radius of current limits is what Brainerd's Comprehensive Plan anticipated about eight years ago. In the mix are considerations of expanded utilities and a look at transportation needs.
Recently Brainerd City Administrator Dan Vogt, City Engineer Jeff Hulsether, City Planner Al Cottingham and city council member Gary Scheeler all met at city hall to talk about the future.
Considering annexation petitions already received by the city and stated plans for future growth, it appears Brainerd will expand its borders. Recent drawings of new boundaries include land south of the Wise Road, east of Highway 371 and to either side of Beaver Dam Road. It includes land running to the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Regional Airport and the two-mile perimeter to the east and south of the city.
Brainerd's current residents are served by municipal water and sewer. The city is working with Crow Wing County on reconstructing Riverside Drive in 2001 and 2002 to include water and sewer up to the intersection with CSAH 49.
Brainerd City Administrator Dan Vogt said the city's population is now about 13,183. Land in the expansion zone includes residential tracts and area that is likely to be included in the commercial growth. Vogt said straight-line predictions of a declining Brainerd population did not take into account area growth such as the heavily populated Gilbert Lake region just northeast of the city proper.
"That will be added," Vogt said of the city boundaries. "Those are the things that skewed that projection."
Land along the Highway 18 corridor as it travels east of the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center appears to be another likely corridor for continued development for business and residential. Brainerd is involved with a residential development for more than 50 homes geared to an affordable range starting in the $85,000 to $100,000 level.
More development is expected along Highway 210 as it stretches to the east toward Riverton. With enough traffic to support a larger road system now, Highway 25 is also a likely candidate for road expansion as it weaves north to Merrifield and beyond. While the road may not be a four-lane highway in the near future, an upgrade to one with passing lanes could be closer at hand.
Closer to the city's core, the northeast and east side of Brainerd are expected to strengthen. The addition of Universal Pensions offices in the renovated space formerly occupied by Pamida and the growth of convenience stores and restaurants from McDonald's to the new Kentucky Fried Chicken point to a willingness by business investors.
"I think the east side is a very valuable part of the community," Vogt said. And he noted the continuing renovation of the Northern Pacific Center where once empty shops vacated by Burlington Northern are now in the hands of private ownership and growing use by a number of businesses, including Trus Joist MacMillan. About 40 acres of land remains undeveloped on the former shop site. Vogt pointed to funds available to check the land and the likelihood that the area feared to be contaminated by decades of railroad use may be less of a concern than first thought.
"That is going to make some beautiful kind of center of town," Vogt said of the Northern Pacific Center.
Plans at the center itself include restoration of historic buildings, including offices in the clock tower and landscaping around the area itself.
In the predictions for continued growth, Vogt said there is a desire to retain as much of the northwoods atmosphere as possible while still giving businesses what they need to be competitive.
"The city is a big supporter of retaining what this community was built on," Vogt said, noting the city is examining what other communities have done when faced with similar issues. That goal that is complicated along Washington Street by concrete that stretches right from the 80 feet of street right-of-way to commercial buildings' doorstep. Those construction patterns were first designed in a city that did not include automobiles. And retaining green space around businesses was not a common concern.
More efforts are expected along Washington Street to soften the parking lot and roadway image as the area is redeveloped. And future visitors to Brainerd should see a landscape pattern at the city's entrances to make them more visually appealing.
Standards for signs and landscaping and the percentage of a lot that may be covered by a building and parking are some of the issues the city is pursuing now.
In land expected to be in annexation area just north of the Mississippi River, an open field is included that city officials say would serve well for a large park. The open area means large sections of forest need not be decimated to create room for recreation areas such as soccer fields. But as Brainerd looks at expansion, some have pointed to the costs associated with an older infrastructure. Hulsether said the city services may be older, but they remain in good shape.
Amid the optimism of a strong economy and a lot of help wanted signs, there are definite challenges ahead that will not be easy to solve. With the need to fill job openings, more people will be enticed to move to the region. Scheeler points to rising wages to attract people to fill job openings to allow area businesses to expand.
Growth of the land mass to a two-mile radius of the existing city could mean Brainerd's growth as a residential area. Smaller lots are predicted along the city's southern and eastern edges to keep the homes more affordable. Home expansion to the north is likely to cater to mid to upper-scale home buyers, especially on land along water from river bed to lakeshore. Light office is expected along with commercial pockets. Airport service related industrial may be a likely tie-in and the city's industrial park is already slated for expansion into the former Thiesse farm property.
Straight line or a declining population for the city founded with a young expanding country on the back of the strength of steel rails?
"That obviously is not going to occur," Vogt said. "Our population is going to continue to grow. ... It certainly isn't the community where the population is going down."
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