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A gathering of the business minds: DL's Economic Development Summit tackles construction, housing, health, and tourism

Friday morning's Economic Development Summit at M State in Detroit Lakes was a time to reflect on community successes, like the recent completion and "pummeling" of the ice palace and a time to look forward at what's to come.

Road construction and housing have been hot topics in the area lately, with the West Lake Drive plans and affordable housing being slim pickings in the area.

The City Administrator Kelcey Klemm says the first phase of redoing the strip won't really begin until 2019. A study is just finishing up, and community members are hotly debating some of the plans, namely the plan to eliminate the VFW campground.

"There's people who like it and people who don't like it," he said.

More timely concerns include the wastewater treatment plant and projects at the airport.

Klemm said people will begin to see movement over at the wastewater plant on Willow Street in the coming weeks, and they should expect some slower movement through that area, traffic-wise.

The total cost of the project will be $34 million, $1.5 million under bid, and it will take a good 2.5 years to complete.

As for the airport construction, they have already broken ground out there to make a new, 5,200-foot runway and taxi extension. That project will cost $18 million and the majority (90 percent) is funded by federal dollars; another five percent will come from the Minnesota Department of Transportation; and the final five percent will come from a local match.

Two smaller projects that will see progress this year are the Hartland Trail extension, which will hopefully reach Acorn Lake by the end of the year, and the Long Lake Utilities extension, which will bring city utilities to the northeast stretch of the houses on the lake, a $3.6 million project.

As for the final stretch of the Heartland Trail, the jaunt that will run from Acorn Lake into Frazee, that will have to wait until 2019. Klemm says there have been some issues with the route.

"This project has sometimes been painfully slow, but the good news is we have the funding to do it," said Klemm.

2019 will also see a Randolph Road project as well as some reconstruction near West Avenue and Willow Street.

The new jail is another project that is underway. Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander announced they're hoping for a Dec. 1 opening.

The Boys and Girls Club also has news: March 16 will be the open house for the old building, and their budget for the new, "community-use facility," has gone up. They now have a goal of raising $6.5 million to erect the building.

As for building houses in the community, there's certainly a need. Kari Holmstrom, executive director of the Detroit Lakes Housing Redevelopment Authority, said the results of a new housing study showed a need for all types of housing in the community, particularly for about 100 to 120 more rental units in the market.

"We found in the city of Detroit Lakes that the annual growth is approximately 115 people or 62 households a year," said Holmstrom.

Then cost was another issue altogether.

"More than 53 percent of our renters have this cost burden and are paying substantially more than 30 percent of their income to housing," she said, adding, "and this problem is distributed across all age groups."

Holmstrom says 600 homeowners in the area also reported a housing-cost burden, and a majority of the reporting homeowners had incomes below $35,000 a year.

A housing shortage and cost burden feeds into poverty, which breeds health issues. According to Karen Crabtree, a manager of social services and community health at Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes, "In order to address community health, we need a movement."

Out of 87 counties in Minnesota, Becker County is ranked 73rd for health outcomes.

"We have a lot of opportunity to do better," said Crabtree. "Smoking, adult obesity, our rates are really high."

And some of the worst statistics are centered around children, she said.

"Our child abuse and neglect rate and children out-of-home rate is twice the rate of the state," said Crabtree, adding that 61 percent of girls and 42 percent of boys in Becker County have symptoms of depression by eleventh grade.

To combat some of these issues, Becker County Energize is pushing a Tobacco 21 initiative. They are also working on a Becker County Health Map, which will make it easier to see the health amenities (hiking trails, biking trails, etc.) Becker County has to offer, and they're working on a volunteer initiative.

A Homelessness Forum is also scheduled for March 25.

While the bones of the city need a little love, tourism is still hot and bringing in the big bucks, particularly after the construction of the ice palace this winter.

Last year, lodging taxes took in $237,000, but it's too early to see the impact of this year's ice palace.

"We really don't know" the full impact, said one of the palace coordinators Amy Stearns.

Stearns said their best guess was that the economic impact of the palace was around $350,000.

"Most likely, it's double that, but that's our most conservative estimate," she said.

As for next year, the plan is to do something along the ice harvesting spectrum, though probably not a palace.

"Something might be happening next year...maybe," said Sterns. "It all depends on you guys. If something is to happen next year, we need more people. We need different people."

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