Ramsey gathers business feedback about Highway 10

by Eric Hagen
ECM Publishers
A goal for the Ramsey City Council is to “improve the image of key corridors.”

The city invited property and business owners along Highway 10 for a meeting at The Fountains of Ramsey on the morning of March 16 to kick off a new discussion about what steps could be taken to improve the appearance of this state corridor that gives outsiders passing through a quick impression of Ramsey.

While the city has heard some comments over the years about concerns of the appearance of properties along Highway 10, Community Development Director Tim Gladhill told the business community that its input would be valuable as the city explores options.

“We want to work with this group to first see if there is an image issue and if so what could we do,” he said.

Gladhill said the city does not have any proposed ordinance changes or plans to increase code enforcement on the table.

“That’s our goal to get some buy-in and have people work with us,” Mayor Sarah Strommen said during a council meeting last year. “I don’t view this as a code enforcement issue. I think there’s a community engagement aspect.”

Most business people stayed silent when asked for their opinions on the appearance of the corridor, but a couple of people expressed frustration that the city did not really seem to understand how hard it is to run a business along a corridor with an uncertain future.

“We’re paying our taxes to you to solve this problem and you’re not solving it,” said Ronald Touchette, a broker for Rock Solid Companies, which owns properties on the northeast corner of Highway 10 and Ramsey Boulevard.

While he said the current Ramsey city staff have been cordial, damage has been done over the years. There’s been various plans for improving Highway 10. An earlier concept called for shifting Highway 10 closer to the railroad tracks, which would have taken out a lot of businesses on the north side.

The Highway 10 Access Planning Study approved in 2014 by the cities of Anoka and Ramsey and Anoka County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation largely keeps the state highway in its current alignment, although there would be impacts when interchanges and new service roads are built to eliminate the traffic signals.

Touchette has had success with property sales in Otsego along Highway 101 after traffic lights were taken out. He helped facilitate development of a Nystrom & Associates clinic and a residential development for seniors.

While he has found business for his Ramsey properties, he said the deals have been tough for him because there have been plans showing the highway going through his property. He said his property valuation has already decreased significantly. Rather than waiting for property values to drop further, he said the government should continue buying properties so that private business owners are not losing money because of these long-term highway plans.

“We need to fix (Highway) 10. It’s a danger. But you can’t fix the community’s problems on the backs of a couple of people,” he said.

Business has been booming for Steve Jung at M&G Trailer Sales. He leases property that the city of Ramsey had bought under the Right of Way Acquisition Loan Fund (RALF) through the Metropolitan Council. The city purchased 15 parcels through this program.

Jung opened M&G Trailer Sales in 2001 and recently agreed to a lease amendment with the city so he could more than double his leased space in order to expand his parking lot. But he only wanted to put in a gravel lot and not spend considerably more to pave the lot when he has no idea how long he could be there.

One idea the council has talked about is a having a new loan program through the Ramsey Economic Development Authority to help businesses make upgrades to their facade and landscaping.

Jung does not think the city should help fund business projects.

But Larry Hickman, owner of Plants and Things, thinks the city should continue to buy properties along Highway 10 where there are vacant buildings. The city is buying a vacant gas station property on the opposite side of Sunfish Lake Boulevard from Hickman’s business. The underground storage tanks were removed last week and the station is being demolished since the long-term plan is for a service road to go through this property once an interchange is constructed at Sunfish Lake Boulevard.

Hickman thinks the government should also do a better job of mowing the grass and picking up the trash on its own corridors. He thinks this, along with getting new business in vacant buildings or buying and eliminating, them would make a big difference in improving the appearance of Highway 10,

For those in business, he sees nothing wrong with their appearance.

“Let the businesses function. We as businesses don’t want to fail. When a customer comes, we want it to look the best,” he said.

Council Members Jill Johns, John LeTourneau and Melody Shryock attended the March 16 meeting with the businesses, which began with a highlight of Highway 10 and rail crossing projects on the city’s radar.

“We’ll take feedback from the businesses and start to discuss direction,” Shryock said.