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Growth minded Burnsville mulls its strengths, weaknesses 2018

July 26, 2018 - Burnsville Eagan Sun/Thisweek News reports:

Growth-minded Burnsville mulls its strengths, weaknesses

by John Gessner Jul 26, 2018

Burnsville is at a turning point in its development — and it will take effort to build new property wealth, revitalize areas such as Burnsville Center, keep home values rising and attract new families.

That’s the message from the City Council and Economic Development Commission as they develop a strategic plan for economic development. The EDC, a council-appointed advisory group, will draft the plan over the next several months.

The groups met July 18 after offering candid views about the state of the city in member phone interviews with consulting firm Ehlers.

“Cities can’t be complacent,” said Stacie Kvilvang of Ehlers, who led the meeting. “You can’t say the private market is going to take care of it.”

The interviews elicited positive and negative views of changes in Burnsville over the last decade, according to an Ehlers report.

The Heart of the City redevelopment, construction of a performing arts center, completion of the Highway 13/County Road 5 interchange and growing ethnic diversity were among the many positives, the report said.

Negatives included the reputation of Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191, an aging population and dearth of young families, the diminished fortunes of Burnsville Center as online retailing grows, and a “growing shabbiness” of aging housing and commercial and industrial buildings.

“Many folks thought that the city is at a turning point,” Kvilvang said.

Burnsville isn’t sitting still. Officials are already working on a master redevelopment plan for Burnsville Center and the surrounding County Road 42 retail corridor. And the council has authorized new programs to buy and assemble parcels for redevelopment and help businesses with building teardowns and renovations. Those programs have more than $1 million in start-up funding from a Dakota County grant.

City involvement in redevelopment pays dividends, the Ehlers report suggested.

Jason Aarsvold of Ehlers pointed to a 21.14 percent rise in total market value in St. Louis Park — an exemplar of “positive and effective redevelopment” — from 2012 to 2017.

Burnsville’s market value rose 14.35 percent during the same period. Eagan’s market value rise was similar and Apple Valley’s even lower, compared with bigger spikes in Bloomington, Richfield and Savage.

Richfield, another city aggressively courting redevelopment, has outpaced Burnsville in rising home prices, Aarsvold said.

Richfield’s median year-end sale price in 2014 was $183,750, compared with Burnsville’s $209,000, according to Ehlers. So far in 2018, Richfield has reached $254,000, compared with Burnsville’s $258,500.

“They’ve almost caught up,” Aarsvold said.

After topping metro home sale prices in prior years, Burnsville fell below the metro median price in 2017 and so far in 2018, according to Ehlers.

Home prices are an extension of buyers’ confidence in a community, Aarsvold said. Prices can vary from city to city by up to $50,000 based on that confidence, he said.

Among other demographic data, Burnsville’s median income is growing but losing ground to the metro area, according to Ehlers. High school graduation rates, at about 94 percent in both 2000 and 2016, still slightly outpace the state.

Burnsville outpaces the state in percentage of people with bachelor’s degrees — 36.8 percent in 2000 and 38.5 percent in 2016. But it slipped slightly behind Dakota County as a whole in 2016.

School district

The perception of School District 191 has been a perennial topic as the district has grown more racially and economically diverse. Many local officials say the district gets a bad rap from Realtors and word-of-mouth.

At most grade levels, scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments have lagged state averages in recent years. The district also has steadily declining enrollment.

“We can market the good things the school district does, but until they improve their test scores, nothing’s changing,” Burnsville Economic Development Coordinator Skip Nienhaus said.

Focusing on test scores is common for parents going online to shop for schools, Burnsville Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Harmening replied.

“And the challenge we have is that Realtors compare us to Savage, to Lakeville, to neighboring communities,” Harmening said. “And the difference here that we as a community need to grasp — because the school district is on the front lines of what we’re going to be dealing with as a community — is the emerging diversity of our community. We need to compare ourselves to communities who have embraced that and marketed it and done well. We need to compare ourselves to Richfield, to other communities that have gone through this wave.”

The district is prepared to do that with new communications strategies, chamber Board Member Tom Taylor said. The expanded, refashioned Burnsville High School is at the forefront of a national trend toward more vocational education, he added.

“So there is a really good message to tell on that,” Taylor said.

Priority areas

Burnsville Center, the Cliff Road/Larc Industrial Park area, the Minnesota River Quadrant and the Heart of the City emerged as priority areas for redevelopment in Ehlers’ phone interviews.

Full redevelopment of the industrial river quadrant area west of Interstate 35W and north of Highway 13 is decades away, but properties along 13 offer more immediate prospects.

Four parcels remain undeveloped in the Heart of the City 1 district clustered around Nicollet Avenue. All could have been developed by now had previous City Councils allowed new apartment projects, according to Nienhaus.

The council seated this year thawed the city’s longstanding, unofficial apartment freeze, which many welcome at a time when apartment construction is booming. One project already approved in the Heart of the City remains hung up in court over a parking dispute.

More land is available in the Heart of the City II district, where transit-oriented development could follow the future Orange Line rapid bus route.

Burnsville Center was ranked the highest priority area by interview respondents. It’s “going to be your game-changer,” Kvilvang said.

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