By Robert Williams
Led by economic development and housing redevelopment authority president Kevin Zitzow, an array of speakers from EDA/HRA members to county and state officials discussed recent developments and the future growth of Vergas.
“We had a pretty exciting last year,” Zitzow said.
Zitzow discussed the EDA’s strategic planning that led to the city’s comprehensive plan that will be coming before both the planning commission and the city council in the next month for final approval.
Zitzow also highlighted specific acts of the EDA/HRA that allowed for cost savings to commercial developers.
The EDA/HRA paid for water and sewer access charges for both of the new commercial buildings (Altona Square and Summers Construction Design Center), renewed building permit waiver fees for commercial buildings in town for the next five years, sold a lot to a future developer, along with promoting the Otter Tail County Big Build program, a property tax rebate program. The board became fiscal agents for the veteran’s memorial park and pickleball courts, saving both entities sales tax by making them a part of the city.
Zitzow had a long list of new business growth from the past year and tagged that excitement with the phrase, “Brag Vergas.”
“You want to brag about your town and there is a lot in town we have to actually brag about. You look uptown, how many cities of 300 people have two major commercial buildings going up like we do. There are towns that are begging for a building.”Kevin Zitzow, economic development and housing redevelopment authority president
Zitzow also stressed the variety of businesses in the area and how all of those businesses work together to make each other successful.
Vice president Bruce Albright went over 2022 goals for the combined committees.
One of those is meeting with current businesses to determine their needs and help assess what businesses need to grow effectively.
“We know how hard it is to get new businesses in town and we have to try to keep those businesses we do have,” he said.
Albright also stressed trying to identify more areas in the city limits that would allow for more business and encourage well-planned, quality development of commercial areas.
“We’re getting kind of full,” he said. “That’s evident with the parking and everything else going on. We need to look at how we can expand in an orderly fashion.”
Continuing to improve parking in town is a priority.
“We have to explore anything and everything out there because parking is a problem,” he said.Bruce Albright, economic development and housing redevelopment authority vice president
On the HRA side, the group wants to identify where lots are for sale and assist marketing those lots.
For meeting organizer Julie Lammers, the annual meeting is an important gathering to showcase what the two committees can do for residents and business owners, along with helping to guide the future of the town.
“It’s really important so everyone knows what the EDA and HRA is doing,” she said. “With economic development and housing, we’re going to be bringing people into town; we are going to be hopefully enhancing the businesses we already have. Our job is to retain and promote businesses in our community and to add housing so that we prosper and increase the tax base keeping Vergas a vital community. Part of that is sharing with everybody what is going on. To continue to grow and exist, you need to communicate and that is why this meeting is so important.”
West Central Initiative community planners Emily Reno and Celeste Koppe spoke about the town’s comprehensive plan and vision for the future.
Both speakers highlighted portions of the plan draft, which is available on the city website at www.cityofvergas.com/city/comprehensive-plan.
A public input meeting to assist in finalizing the draft will be held on Thursday, June 16 at 5:30 p.m., on Main Street (in front of the Municipal Building).
The plan is near the end of a year-long process to complete after a three-year housing study.
“That really helped us know that we needed a comprehensive plan and where the base is,” said Lammers. “We know how many houses we have now, how many people are planning on leaving and what we need to have come into Vergas to be able to sustain and grow.”
Reno and Koppe also discussed interesting data from surveys that were taken from local and area residents. Reno stressed the demographics of 53 percent of respondents indicated they are residents of Candor, Dora or Hobart township and 30 percent were city of Vergas residents.
“I think that’s really interesting and reflective of the way that Vergas draws in so many people from the surrounding areas and I also think it’s important to keep in mind when we look at the survey results,” she said. “How much weight do we put on it to say that this is what city of Vergas residents want versus this larger community that was surveyed?
A summary of the survey results can be found on the city’s Comprehensive Plan webpage.
Attendees also heard workforce issue reports and plans from Sarah Schake, an independent contractor for the Otter Tail County Community Development Agency and Amy Johnson of the Otter Tail County Youth Workforce Navigation Program.