Development along the Highway 371 bypass route south of Highway 210 may not be on the same furious pace set in the past decade in Baxter.
For now, forecasting is based only on speculation. More land sales are needed to identify trends. And developers say investors are waiting to see what happens at the southern intersection exchange near Barrows and what access roads may be created along the bypass.
A great part of the equation appears to come from side road access to the highway. Some land along the bypass may be more attractive for office space than retail outlets looking for high visibility.
Curt Eastlund, Minnesota Department of Transportation District 3 preliminary designer, said the bypass project was conceived and developed to minimize access. For MnDOT, the idea is to minimize points where slow or stopped cars would enter higher speed highway traffic in order to create a safer roadway. Eastlund said street access to the bypass will have to run to either Glory Road or County Road 48.
Access makes property more valuable. The Crow Wing County assessor's office suggests a conservative estimate is that an intersection with a signal light access adds 20 percent to a property's value.
New regulations for buffers and evolving ideas for aesthetics also may have an effect on development patterns. Baxter has repeatedly expressed a desire to encourage commercial and retail growth along roadways that extend east and west of the city's main retail corridor instead of continuing the south to north linear sprawl.
The majority of land along the Highway 371 bypass route is currently zoned agricultural with sections of residential. Commercial zoning is also in pockets on Business Highway 371, representing the North Central Motor Speedway and other retail development along the route immediately south of Brainerd.
Beyond zoning, which can be changed through government procedures and hearings, development is affected by costs. Land with access to infrastructure of sewer and roads should develop more quickly because land without either is ultimately more expensive.
Developer Kevin Close, with Close Converse Commercial and Preferred Properties, Brainerd, said further development is expected along Highway 371 from College Drive south to County Road 48 and west of Highway 371 toward Home Depot.
"I think it's going to be a nice steady growth," Close said of the land south of the College Drive area. "I don't think it's going to be a land rush as many people think."
Close said development has increased in Baxter proper, along Highway 371 and near it, such as off Excelsior Road. Close said development is likely to be more scattered. He said retail and commercial development south of Highway 210 may not occur at the same pace as Baxter and Highway 371 North has experienced in the last 15 years.
Close said there are not a lot of sales yet to judge development trends. "It's still too early to see what is going to happen along there. ... I see as much of that happening -- building out of the corridor -- as extending south. At this point people would really like to see what will happen with that (southern Highway 371) interchange."
Close said property development on Highway 371 North beyond Baxter should level off with the slight tempering in the escalation of land prices that has taken place in the last three to five years. In part that leveling is expected because more land will be available to the south.
As an example, the Crow Wing County assessor's office has recorded sales on the property at Baxter's edge along Highway 371 North and Woida Road. Lakes Area Developers purchased the corner property for $434,000 in June 1997. That property was divided and later sold in sections. Comfort Inn and Suites purchased its property for $675,000 in June 1999. Arby's purchased its property in April 1998 for $335,000 and bare land that became the Lakeland Veterinary Clinic was purchased for $200,000.
Land in the Highway 371 corridor was priced on a front-foot basis about six or seven years ago. Now that land is priced on a square foot basis, rising from the low $1 and $2 range to $5 and $6. In some instances, prices are much higher. In April, Northern National Bank paid $700,000 for land along Highway 371 that was just more than an acre. That cost equaled $13.50 per square foot plus demolition costs to remove the veterinary clinic the bank replaced.
MnDOT spent about $3 million to purchase 60 parcels of land for the bypass.
Land along the bypass from the river north to Highway 210 has taxpayers listed with Crow Wing County's recorders office as a series of people or consortiums -- Park Region Limited Partnership of Baxter; Kenneth Reis, Lakeville; Navillus Land Co., Baxter; Baxter Mainstreet Limited Partnership, Hopkins; Orris and Francine Rodahl, Baxter; Steven Lastovich, Baxter; James and Charmaine Donovan, Brainerd; Alan and Julie Steiff, Brainerd; and Robert and Rebecca Houle, Baxter.
Taxpayers recorded in Crow Wing County from the Mississippi River south to old Highway 371 along the bypass are Park Region Limited Partnership, Baxter; Bradley and Connie Tisdell, Brainerd; Elaine Holmes Co. Trustee with a fee owner listed as Homespot Group, Brainerd. An ownership title recently transferred from Potlatch to the limited liability company of Thelen-Wheeler of Baxter in July.
Close said what may be most interesting is to see what happens with potential future annexation or development in Barrows, Brainerd, Baxter and Crow Wing County. Close said as a developer and resident he understands wanting the area to develop nicely and not hodgepodge with different government units responsible for various sections.
And a point to remember is that traffic, and thus shoppers for retail ventures, also is coming from both the east and west on Washington Street. Close said in consideration of that east/west traffic flow there is talk of improving Excelsior Road behind the Westgate Mall and even adding a stoplight. Investors are looking at favorable locations for the general population and not just the tourist traffic flow.
Along the southern interchange near Barrows, speculation from developers is that a convenience store or perhaps a motel could be developed.
Close said in the last couple of years people have expressed more interest in the area and now that the speculation about where the bypass will go is ended there will be more commercial development as long as the economy remains strong.
Kohl's Department Store, Barnes and Nobles, Best Buy and Applebee's are some of the names expected to venture into the market in the next few years. Close said such interest comes not only from a growing population but from examples of existing area businesses that have remained successful and have been able to fuel expansions.
Close said: "Parking lots are full and that bodes well for the next wave of development."
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