NEW ULM - New Ulm City Council candidate Ron Larsen is laying responsibility for the numerous empty storefronts in New Ulm downtown at the feet of the City Council. He said that he believes he has a plan to solve the problem, along with suggestions for the Marktplatz Mall and Minnesota Street itself.
Larsen, who is running for the Councilor-At-Large position, said he believes the key to revitalizing New Ulm's downtown is eliminating all hurdles to business. He said that even though most of the challenging regulations come from the federal government, he believes that it is the responsibility of local government to make the regulations as painless as possible.
He said his biggest current concern is many downtown businesses are in aging buildings that need upgrades. He said that more recent federal regulations, such are requiring handicap access, add too much additional cost to upgrades for store owners, forcing them to forgo any improvements due to the cost. He said that businesses suffer because not making the improvements prevents the buildings from increasing their property value while also making them harder to sell.
He said that the Council should be pro-active in helping businesses with this cost. He said that his suggestion is for the businesses faced with expense of this nature to submit the project to the Council for approval. He said that if the Council accepts the project, the business would take out a loan for the cost and the City of New Ulm would guarantee its payment. When the project is completed, the City would pay off the loan and backfill its depleted reserves by re-designating a portion of the property taxes the business pays. He said that since this would only be used with a few businesses, it was acceptable that the City would be covering the whole cost of the improvement.
Larsen said he considers this idea a "Win-win situation" because it helps the business get needed improvement and the City would get more property taxes long term due to the business increasing its value with the improvements.
Larsen also said that more thought needs to go into the layout of the historic district to improve its attractiveness. He said that he takes issue with the historic buildings being arbitrarily placed with newer, modern buildings. He said that based on the layout of other historic districts in other towns, the distinction between older and newer buildings needs to be clear to show the value of the old buildings.
He said that the ideal layout would have been to buyout everything northwest on Minnesota Street from 2nd North Street to the Walgreens store. He said that the north-west portion would be filled with new, modern businesses and the rest of Minnesota Street to the south-east would be left as it in its current state. He said that the layout would allows people to clearly see the distinction in the looks of the buildings and the historic value of the older section.
Regarding the mall, Larsen he would like to see it converted into a service center with a same-day medical clinic, a drug store, a grocery store and other service type facilities. He said the this option would be superior to the mall's struggling setup while also providing services that improve living in the area.
Finally, Larsen said he would would like to see Minnesota Street in the downtown area to be converted into a two-way road instead of its current one-way layout.
Larsen is running incumbent Charles Schmitz for the Councilor-At-Large position on the New Ulm City Council this November.
Larsen is a former reporter for The Journal.
Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org