DL city candidates talk downtown development, convention center, other city issues at forum
People gathered in the Minnesota Community & Technical College Tuesday evening to hear from the Detroit Lakes mayor and aldermen candidates.
During the Lakes Area League of Women Voters-sponsored forum, the three mayor candidates faced off first, followed by council candidates from Ward 1, Ward 2 and At Large. Jim Anderson, running for Ward 3, is unopposed.
Q: With the economic crisis expected to last for a while, what belt tightening can Detroit Lakes do?
Jim Vareberg: He said he couldn't say until he sees more of where money is being spent. "I hear a lot of what we're wasting money on, but I won't know until I see it." He added that the city does need to be careful, though.
Bob Renney: "The council needs to sit down with department heads on a monthly basis and figure out what can be cut."
Matt Brenk: "Detroit Lakes is continuously keeping a tight belt since I've been on the council." The city is doing fine financially, and this year residents won't even see an increase in taxes thanks to that. "I don't see Detroit Lakes having an economic crisis."
Q: In 10 years, how do you envision Detroit Lakes?
Brenk: He has been a big proponent for the RDG plan, which "addresses a lot of issues in Detroit Lakes. It'll make (Detroit Lakes) even better than it already is." He hopes to see a lot of those plans implemented.
Renney: He sees the city with a vibrant downtown and more growth west of town toward Fargo. The RDG plan is too costly for citizens, he added.
Vareberg: "The downtown warmed up like surrounding towns. I'd like to see the beach come back also."
Q: What are the two greatest issues facing Detroit Lakes and how do we solve them?
Renney: "The city is annexing too much around the area and not listening to the citizens of Detroit Lakes." Secondly, he said, "keep taxes down and look at businessmen and take care of them."
Vareberg: "I'd listen to the people of Detroit Lakes and see what they say." The economy is a concern, although he said the remaining issue is hard to answer at this time.
Brenk: First is the decision whether or not to move forward with the RDG plan or not. Secondly, annexation is important for the growth of Detroit Lakes. He added that industrial park expansion, jobs, and tax base increase is also important.
Q: With the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center needing financial subsidizing, is it wise to build a conference center?
Vareberg: "We should be making the best of what we have." He added that he can't see having a conference center. "We have enough stuff out there to utilize."
Brenk: He's not in favor of a convention center right now but keep it on the back burner and possibly incorporate it in the future. He added that he is not in favor of anything the taxpayers will have to subsidize.
Renney: He said that not long ago he remembers voting against the sales tax that would pay for the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center. "It's not worth going after," he added of the conference center.
The remaining questions were asked of the candidates running for city council.
Q: What are your views on the convention center and how should it be funded?
Doug Friendshuh: "I don't think we are ready for a convention center now."
Jamie Marks Erickson: "I think it's the operating cost that makes it difficult to run. I think it's a private sector project."
Beatrice Tessman: "I'm a person who believes in having money before you can pay for it."
Dan Holzgrove: He doesn't support the project at this point, but that doesn't mean it won't work in the future. For example, the Pavilion raised the rent and helped pay for itself. The DLCCC though is still being paid for. "It's too big of a burden at this time." He added the city should pay off the DLCCC before another large project.
Bruce Imholte: He agreed the conference center shouldn't be built at this point because of costs, but "look out 20 years from now. I don't want residents to say you should have done this (years ago)." But Detroit Lakes is competing with other cities, he added. "Would I support one? Yes. Is it going to happen? No."
Ron Zeman: In the report handed down from RDG, he said, each page said there is "no reason to support this whatsoever." Too bad the city had to pay $27,000 to find out what everyone already knew, he added.
Madalyn Sukke: She did appreciate the RDG presentation and agrees with the smaller, 10,000 square foot, conference center proposal. She said she doesn't support a conference center right now, but possibly in the future.
John S. Watland: He said he wasn't supportive of the DLCCC four years ago and doesn't support a conference center now. "I thought it was an insult to citizens" to have RDG do the study of what we don't want, he said. "I'll never be for it," he said of the conference center.
Q: What are the two greatest issues facing Detroit Lakes and what are your proposed solutions?
Holzgrove: Completion of the Highway 10 project. "That's going to be a big plus for the town." Secondly, he said he'd like to see tourism increase. "It's our diamond, and it's so unused. I'd like to see it come back to life."
Imholte: Redevelopment is first, and the city will have to "look at sources of money" for that. Second is industrial park growth. "It's real important to our community" to help bring jobs to the community.
Tessman: "Sitting on Washington Avenue and seeing veterans leaving Detroit Lakes and I'm wondering what we can do to help them."
Sukke: "The Gateway District, without a doubt" is the No. 1 concern. The Highway 10 project has been great, but now the "problem is it's easy to breeze through town on Highway 10. Pulling them off to downtown," is the next concern. Secondly, economic development is important.
Watland: "The north side of Detroit Lakes is slipping away and has been ignored. It's really sad." He would push to get something for the north end of town, and, he added, he is tired of hearing about RDG. Secondly, the lake is slipping away and needs to be revitalized.
Zeman: "Create new jobs in our community." While Detroit Lakes' population has increased, he said it's mainly from annexation, but he would like to see growth from new people coming to town instead. Secondly, the Gateway project needs to find developers "to bring their checkbooks."
Marks Erickson: She said there are several opportunities facing the city. "The downtown redevelopment plan as well as the Heartland Trail" are included. "Implementing the downtown is going to take time." The need to vitalize the north side of town is also important.
Friendshuh: "The Gateway -- we must help the local merchants and individuals first." Secondly, getting good paying jobs to the city are important as well.
Q: How do you prioritize economic development as a city function and what would you do to promote it?
Watland: "We need money. In order to make money we need good paying jobs."
Zeman: "We've all learned in the last three weeks we can't spend our way to prosperity." He listed some of the economic ideas to get people to not move away, and the Gateway project and bike trails to bring back tourism.
Sukke: One of the top priorities the city has is to attract new businesses and keep the ones here or the city is going to lose citizens. "We need to look at all avenues."
Friendshuh: "I feel it's very important. The challenge is how to do it without taxing residents." Make the city attractive to bring other businesses into town. Helping out existing businesses is No. 1, though, and bringing in new business is priority No. 2.
Marks Erickson: Regional planning and building off those plans, is a start, she said. "An industrial park is important," she said, "and to focus on local business."
Imholte: "No. 1 priority -- I think we all want to grow and prosper." Developments include investments in infrastructure, knowing there is a pay-off in the future. He also listed industrial park, non-motorized trails and redevelopment plan as important.
Tessman: "I got my priorities from sitting on a milk stool. I'm a farmer." She added that she used to have a tree farm that ended up being the city airport and city lagoon. "People aren't going to come tour all the parking lots."
Holzgrove: "We do need to attract jobs." Strong jobs and building the tax base is how to prioritize, and to help small businesses.