A $348,570 redevelopment grant was awarded to the city of Brainerd with expectations of new businesses, jobs and continued efforts to expand a light industrial and warehouse area in the city's center.
The Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development announced Thursday the grant to continue development of an 18.6-acre site in the Northern Pacific Center within the former railroad shops in east Brainerd.
"I think it's just a big shot in the arm for that facility over there to continue its road to total recovery," said Dan Vogt, Brainerd city administrator. "It's basically another industrial park that's located in our community that is privately owned."
Vogt said the center contains about 45 acres of industrial property on the east edge of Brainerd's downtown area. He said the city will try to do what it can to assist the renovation project.
Called the Northern Pacific Center west project, the development refers to the cluster of former railroad buildings south of the railroad tracks that cross 13th Street Northeast. New infrastructure, including water, sanitary sewer, utility lines and the widening and paving of a public access road, are included in the redevelopment plans.
The redevelopment program was created to level the development playing field between nonproductive, sometimes polluted or blighted land throughout the state, said Jerry Carlson, DTED commissioner, in a news release. The program helps smaller communities recycle and reuse blighted land, he added.
Cleanup of the site has been an issue. The railroad site was contaminated with lead from a previous owner, DTED officials said. The Legislature created the redevelopment program to assist with complex and costly redevelopment projects that might not otherwise occur without public assistance.
Proposed plans call for demolition of three buildings at the Northern Pacific Center. Buildings slated for demolition include Building 10, a small building that borders 13th Street; Building Four, which is directly west of the clock tower building; and Building Nine on the east side of the site.
Developers want to remove Building Four, which was believed to have been a warehouse, to create a better road access and parking. Northern Pacific Center owner David Hutton said removing that building is probably the most important improvement and will improve the center's overall visibility.
The buildings set for demolition are listed on the National Historic Register. Those buildings will have to be decommissioned before any work can begin. Owners are currently working with the Minnesota Historical Society.
Hutton said the improvements of storm sewer and sanitary sewer will enable the center to attract more manufacturing businesses and provide sufficient water to put sprinkler systems in the buildings.
"It also brings those same utilities services near the power plant (the multi-story building located south and east of the clock tower) and then those same services will be ready for extension to the eastern part," Hutton said of the property. The site's eastern end is undeveloped and Hutton said there is the potential for new buildings.
"We're looking at both options -- housing and retail or light industrial," he said.
The trade and economic development department reported the Northern Pacific Center site will be fully converted into a light manufacturing and warehousing center for a number of businesses, with a potential to create 166 jobs and increasing the city's tax base by $55,188. Those projections were based on space that is available and ready for manufacturing type businesses, Hutton said.
"Some of our buildings are being used for warehouses and we are trying to change the mix a little bit and move to a little higher employment," Hutton said.
Hutton said the city has been working closely with the center. He estimated owners, along with improvements tenants made to buildings, have spent more than $1 million in center upgrades.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring.
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