BAXTER -- As one year rolls into another, the city of Baxter is taking a deep breath and making key decisions about the future.
Long-range planning is looking at a more walker-friendly city with permeable driveways and sidewalks, which let water move through pavement instead of creating run-off issues through rain and snow melt. The effort would allow a change of pace from the number of drainage ponds now seen with developments as a way to handle stormwater. For a city built on sandy soils amid eight lakes, water is a key issue.
Wal-Mart Super Center construction continued through much of 2004. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Moody's Investors Service, which provides research and analysis on city governments, described Baxter as a medium-sized and rapidly growing economy serving a regional population of more than 60,000.
Baxter has a city tax base of $636 million and, during the last five years, has grown at an average annual rate of 15.4 percent. While the city is seeing a diversification in its tax base, the top 10 taxpayers are concentrated in the retail industry, Moody's reported.
In 2004, Baxter saw the addition of Reed's Sporting Goods, restaurants and more retail shopping. In 2005, the city will continue to see construction on two large hotel projects -- the 140-room Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in the Baxter Village development and the 80-room Holiday Inn Express Three Bear Lodge and Water Park. The Wal-Mart Super Center opens in January and Gander Mountain is expected to take over part of the vacated Wal-Mart store.
Forestview Middle School was completed with students moving into the classrooms after the holiday break. The Brainerd Lakes Surgery Center, providing outpatient and same-day surgery, opens near the Wal-Mart Super Center in Baxter. The project is a joint venture between the surgical community and St. Joseph's Medical Center.
"Moody's expects growth to continue, albeit at a more moderate level, given that over half of the city's property remains vacant and developable," the company reported.
County: Crow Wing.
Major employers: Nor-son Construction, Lindar Corp., BISYS, Widseth Smith Nolting, Mills Corp., Kuepers Construction.
Notable attractions: Paul Bunyan Trail and bike trails, Northland Arboretum, Whipple Beach, Highway 371 retail strip.
The median family income for Baxter in 2000 was $55,838 with a per capita income of $19,772 and the median housing value that year at $121,600.
The city reported most growth is expected west and a little south, but Dennis Coryell, Baxter city administrator, said the city is not looking at a commercial strip toward Little Falls. Development has already extended to the Pine Beach Road to the north.
One of the ongoing issues in Baxter will carry over into 2005 as the city looks at the future of the Pine Meadows Golf Course property. Owners announced they would not reopen the golf course. There is a $5 million purchase agreement between Pine Meadows Golf Course owners, Continental Golf Corp., and the Denali Real Estate Group of Nisswa.
"Everyone understands it's a real special piece of land over there," Coryell said. "Our concern is easily as much about green space as golfing."
Discussions on the golf course land's future and potential development will continue into 2005.
As more people arrive in the area for shopping and living, transportation concerns and congestion will continue. The city's goals are to extend Cypress Drive north. Coryell said the city wants to create routes that make sense for residents.
"Cypress is an important part of that plan," Coryell said, adding it would tie into an eastern transportation loop for the city. Baxter City Hall was set up on Memorywood because the old school was once there. Coryell said the future may be a city campus, with city offices, police and potentially a satellite fire station near the Forestview Middle School. He said the location would allow sharing of facilities and perhaps a community center/auditorium. The city has ongoing talks with landowner Potlatch regarding the property. Some land was already purchased for a wastewater treatment plant.
Coryell said Baxter is in a transition from a former bedroom community with a bypass into something much better.
"I'm amazed by the number of projects and the quality of life," Coryell said. "I see a big renaissance happening here."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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