Road conditions in Hutchinson have been a popular topic of discussion lately thanks to unprecedented damage from winter and spring frost boils. But if you ask residents where the worst roads are, you’re likely to hear one response: the Hutchinson Mall.
The good news is renovations may soon be on the way, according to Eric Frankel, vice president of Lexington Realty International, the New Jersey-based company that purchased the mall property in 2013.
“We do plan on resurfacing the parking lot,” Frankel said. “We hope to make an announcement soon with regards to a new tenant for the J.C. Penny’s space. I can’t divulge any names at this point and time, but we are going to do the parking lot as part of our buildout.”
As city staff and elected officials have said many times, the roads and parking lot around the Hutchinson Mall are private property and not city streets. This has not stopped residents from airing their grievances to people such as Mayor Gary Forcier.
“I would say a couple (of complaints) a day between city workers and city hall,” Forcier said. “When I run into people, they always complain. The thing of it is, it’s privately owned.”
So if the mall area roads aren’t owned by the city, whose responsibility are they? Well, it’s complicated.
Lexington Realty International purchased the mall property from local owners Gus Wurdell and Tom Daggett. Surrounding businesses such as Taco Bell, Runnings, Cash Wise Foods, Buffalo Wild Wings, Holiday, and Maytag Car Wash and Laundromat also own portions of the parking lot.
“All of that stuff there is on private property,” said city attorney Mark Sebora. “The property lines on a lot of those roads go right down the middle of them. If you look at the boundary line between Taco Bell and Holiday, the line goes right down the middle of the road.”
For any sort of meaningful maintenance to be completed, businesses in the lot would have to work together. City Administrator Matt Jaunich said the city could attempt to declare the lot a public nuisance and force businesses to repave, but he said the city has never done something like that before.
“We could get a court order and try to get them to fix it,” Jaunich said. “That’s one of the biggest problems though, who do you go after? Historically, the city has not gone after parking lots that are privately owned because then you got the parking lots at Walmart, Target and Menards, etc. Could the city do it? Yes, but it would be difficult and complicated.”
Forcier also said that if the city took legal action, it could push the mall owners to abandon the mall completely.
“It would be quite a bit of money to fix it properly,” he said. “With all of the malls closing all over the country, there’s always the fear of them just walking away from it, too.”
Alexis Martinson, co-owner of Trimmings and Charm inside the mall, said mall business owners are aware of the complaints. They have contacted the property owners in the past to have the parking lot fixed.
“They are aware of the issue and are trying different things,” she said. “They went out and filled every single pothole, and then a terrible storm came through 12 hours later and unset everything. That was in March.”
Martinson also defended the mall owners against rumors of high rent and apathy.
“The mall has gotten a bad rap in the community and that upsets me,” she said. “I hear the rent is really high and the management is poor, so therefore people don’t want to bring their stores to the mall, and people don’t want to shop at the mall. It’s not (bad), the rent is very reasonable, and management is willing to work with people when people have issues.”
The Leader reached out to several other mall business employees who declined to comment.
Martinson noted the importance of supporting hometown businesses and said much of the traffic she sees using the mall roads are people who aren’t stopping to shop. If people want the mall parking lot to improve, she said, they should do more business at the mall.
“There’s a difference between constructive criticism and just tearing it apart. It’s private property that they drive on every single day,” Martinson said. “It’s not public domain. Their taxes don’t pay for that road. So if they don’t shop at the mall, the mall doesn’t get money and they can’t go and fix the parking lot.”
A $469,751 infrastructure grant awarded to the city of Hutchinson will go toward rental housing rehabilitation projects. The 907 Dale Street Apartments will be the primary beneficiary of the grant.
The Small Cities Development Program is part of the Community Development Block Grant Program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is funded by Congress. Hutchinson was one of 43 cities in Minnesota chosen to receive money from the program.
“Otherwise blighted or unhealthy spaces are a drain on a community’s economy,” said Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner Steve Grove. “These investments lead to future economic growth.”
According to a press release, to be eligible for Small Cities funding, a project must meet one of three objectives: it must benefit people of low and moderate incomes, eliminate slum and blighted conditions, or eliminate an urgent threat to public health or safety. Projects must be completed within 30 months, depending on size and scope.
In preparation, city officials surveyed the housing needs in 2018 and found a 2.76 percent vacancy rate for market rate workforce housing. It was recommended to set a goal of 5 percent to allow for optimal unit turnover and consumer choice.
According to a 2018 employer survey, 3M is projecting 250 job openings paying $16-$20 per hour, or $33,280-$41,600 per year, that will need rental housing within the next three years. At these rates, affordable rents at 30 percent of monthly gross income would range from $832-$1,040 per month.
Other employers are projecting 60 job openings within the next three years ranging from $10-$13.78 per hour, or $20,800-$28,662 per year. At these rates, affordable rents range from $520-$717 per month. The survey also states that 210 additional rental units are projected over the next three years.
With a short supply of affordable workforce housing, the Hutchinson Rental Registration Department listed the buildings at 907 Dale Street Apartments as “substandard and in need of rehab” in order to bring them back up to standards. The buildings were originally built in 1974 and have had limited repairs since then.
“It’s in a high-visibility area,” said Jean Ward, Hutchinson Housing and Redevelopment Authority director. “We had done a project in the Main Street downtown area, and as we looked for other apartment buildings, this one stuck out for the (HRA) Board and City Council.”
Money from the grant will be given out on a Small Cities Development Program deferred loan structure, which will cover up to 70 percent of the rehab costs per unit with a maximum SCDP loan amount of $12,500 per rental unit. The property owner would have to put in the other 30 percent, whether it be a loan or cash.
“It’s loaned out in this program to the owner, and then it’s forgiven after five years,” Ward said. “Fifty-one percent of those renters would have to meet ... income restrictions.”
Those restrictions are, for example:
A second set of requirements mandates the following rent limitations:
Rent can’t be increased during the five-year compliance period.
The Dale Street Apartments are currently a naturally occurring affordable housing project as defined by the city, which means their rent is considered unsubsidized and affordable. Rent at the complex currently ranges from $425 for a studio apartment to $750 for a three-bedroom apartment. City officials believe it’s important the apartment building be preserved for local rental inventory.
General tenant notices are scheduled to be sent out this July, and a pre-construction meeting will be held in December. Construction will begin in February 2020 and completed by October 2020.
A group serving veterans is keeping up with nine who have returned home to McLeod County this past year. It has also made a connection with 10 young graduates entering the service.
“I think that’s great foresight,” McLeod County Board Member Ron Shimanski said of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon’s plan to connect with service members early.
He spoke following an annual report from Cassandra Carrigan, chair of McLeod County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, at a board meeting Tuesday morning.
To recognize graduating seniors enlisted in the military, BTYR provides flag pins for the outgoing student to wear at their ceremony.
“It’s just to thank them for joining the military and serving their country,” Carrigan said. “That’s our starting point.”
“I think that will go a long way as they enter their career and return,” Shimanski said. “They will know they have a support system.”
McLeod County was recognized as a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Community in 2014, marking statewide recognition that there was a plan and a will in place to improve the lives of veterans and their families. It maintains a list of a variety of local resources as well as its minutes on the county’s website at tinyurl.com/y3ontzwo.
The list includes numerous businesses that provide military discounts, free services for young families, health services, mental health services and more.
Each month, BTYR meets with local stakeholders to learn about the services they offer veterans and their families. Steering committee members also receive training and information from the state organization.
Each year at the McLeod County Fair, BTYR hosts an event to recognize veterans and those who have returned in the past year. At the 2018 fair, two of 13 returning veterans participated in the event.
BYTR’s fifth welcome home event will be at the McLeod County Fair Sunday, Aug. 18.