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New development and redevelopment authority hard at work

Funding a traffic light study at Vermillion and 23rd streets, securing a potential developer for the empty lot on E. Fourth Street across from City Hall and working with businesses to assist them in bringing their operations to Hastings.

Those are a few of the things the Hastings Economic Development and Redevelop Authority (HEDRA) has done in the less than eight months it's been in existence.

The first stage of the traffic light study was to monitor traffic levels at the intersection to see if they met the requirements for a light. HEDRA ordered the consultant to stop the study if traffic levels weren't high enough to warrant a light, which is what happened. HEDRA Director John Grossman said less than half the money budgeted was used in the study and what's left over will go back into a fund to pay for future studies.

Grossman said the consultant determined that if there were more development near the intersection, such as a restaurant or other high-traffic business, the traffic level could reach the point where a light would be needed.

"At least now, we know where we stand," Grossman said.

The empty lot across from Hastings City Hall on E. Fourth Street has some unique constraints that make developing it somewhat difficult. There are several old oak trees on the lot the city doesn't want to see come down, and it wants a building that will fit in with the historic structures in the area when it comes to size and design.

Hastings-based Stotko Speedling submitted a proposal to HEDRA to build an office building on the site that HEDRA approved. Due to the downturn in the economy, however, the company requested a three-year period to seek out tenants before starting actual construction.

Because HEDRA replaced the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and the Economic Development Commission, it assumed control of the land in the Hastings Business and Industrial Park. HEDRA has worked out a deal under the land credit program with Red Wing Dental Arts to build a new facility in the industrial park.

The land credit program allows companies to buy land for a cheaper price based on the amount of jobs that will be created. Grossman said the city is waiting for Red Wing Dental Arts to finish drawing up a site plan for the project.

As the "economic development and redevelopment" part of its name suggests, HEDRA can offer loans to businesses looking to locate here or existing businesses that are looking to expand. Grossman said HEDRA has been involved in talks with about six businesses interested in loans.

Redevelopment of unused or blighted properties within the city is one goal of HEDRA. Gross explained its cheaper for the city to have a business redevelop an existing property than build a new building on the edge of town because of infrastructure costs. The streets, lights and sewers are already in place at existing properties. The only problem is it's not always the cheapest option for businesses to redevelop existing properties.

"So redevelopment is desirable in the long run, but we have to subsidize it because it doesn't always make business sense to do it," Grossman said.

With the downturn in the economy, banks are lending less, but HEDRA has the ability to fill in funding gaps for projects. For example, if a company were looking to redevelop a property in Hastings and could get a loan for 70 percent of the cost from a bank and had 10 percent of the cost on-hand, HEDRA could come in to cover that leftover 20 percent with a loan to the business.

Grossman said redevelopment also helps hold down tax rates in the city because every time a road or new sewer line is added, it creates more work and more costs for the city. Also, unused properties within the city don't generate much in tax revenue.