The state of the city is growth

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 19, 2001

Friday, January 19, 2001

"Our city motto ‘Growing Together’ has never been truer or more essential for our future."

With these words Mayor Bonnie Rietz summed up the past year in Austin during her fourth annual State of the City address on Thursday night. "It’s great to look back over the past year," she said, prior to the meeting.

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Rietz began by thanking an extensive list of city employees and community members. The City Council members in attendance, including recent outgoing members Roger Boughton and Neil Fedson, department heads and staff were acknowledged.

She proceeded to thank the Mower County Board of Commissioners; Austin Public School Board, administration and staff; Riverland Community College; Chamber of Commerce Development Corporation of Austin; Housing and Redevelopment Authority; Convention and Visitors Bureau; Port Authority; Austin Utilities Board and staff; and the city’s many committees, commissions and boards.

She expressed gratitude to all of those individuals who aided in the completion of the new Comprehensive Plan for Austin. She also thanked Austin firefighters for installing 244 smoke alarms "and continuing [in their] campaign of fire prevention," she said.

Rietz said proudly that the city of Austin was triumphant this year in many contests, including a March of Dimes contest with Albert Lea and a food drive for the Salvation Army in which the city was pitted against the county.

The July flood was addressed by Rietz. She said that though 160 properties sustained "moderate to severe damage," the "city staff rallied quickly and did a yeomen’s job of helping our community through the flood and the aftermath of the disaster."

She said that the Salvation Army, Red Cross and local churches were invaluable in the relief efforts as well.

The city has submitted a $3 million state appropriation to acquire properties and relocate residents from the flood plain area. Additionally, requests have been submitted to the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and the US Army Corp of Engineers to conduct studies of the flood plain.

Rietz expressed her pleasure at the openings of the Catherwood Childcare Center and The Welcome Center, due to the ongoing work of Apex Austin.

During her speech, Rietz mentioned several building projects, some of which were completed this year and others which are future projects.

"Austin experienced its biggest year ever in 2000 in terms of construction valuations and building permits," she said.

Reitz looked to Murphy’s Creek, the airport expansion, the restoration of the Wold Drug Store at Main Street and Second Avenue SW, the Cooperative Response Center’s purchase of a lot north of 18th Avenue NW, the conversion of St. Paul’s Church on South Main Street, the Chauncey Apartments – in which 87 percent of the units are leased, the multipurpose building, the acquisition of the old Kmart along North Main Street by Hormel Foods Corporation and the opening of the new SPAM Museum as projects which will enrich Austin’s future.

The purchase of the Old Silver Bullet building – now housing the Youth Activity Center (YAC) Downtown, the completion of the Main Street Store in the Sterling Shopping Center and ongoing expansions and upgrades of Austin Medical Center/Mayo Health System and Riverland Community College (RCC) were cited as successful projects by Rietz.

The restoration of the boardwalk, sculpture at the Law Enforcement Center and the Walter Wienke Estate, carved bears along the Mill Pond Trail, flower baskets along Main Street and by the Mill Pond – "They were so beautiful this past summer and we received many compliments on them," she said – and the upcoming clean-up of the old Milwaukee Railroad property were mentioned as projects which will and have influenced the aesthetic appeal of Austin.

She mentioned many improvements to the city for nature lovers.

Rietz looked back fondly on the planting of the first Millennium Maple at 12 a.m. on New Year’s Day last year. The same group involved in this planting, Spruce Up Austin, has been responsible to date for the planting of 1,679 trees in its 11 years of existence.

The trees in the city have earned the city the Tree City USA award and the Growth Award from The National Arbor Day Foundation.

The bike committee, she said, is working to link city paths to trails which extend out of Austin to other places in Minnesota, as well as improving the paths already in the city.

The three new soccer fields and new baseball fields at RCC were cited as exciting recreational improvements.

Rietz also expressed her pleasure at work done by the Austin/Mower County Home Ownership Fund and the Blandin Community Leadership Group and said that she looks forward to work that will be done by these organizations in the future.

Issues Rietz mentioned as requiring work in the future are: welcoming newcomers, providing housing to those who need it, continuous monitoring of the flood situation, transitional housing and transportation.

Finally, she noted five "trends," which she said Austin citizens and city employees will need to prepare for:

n "Although Minnesota is today about 90 percent Caucasian, it is rapidly changing with the influx of people from varying ethnic background."

n "The fastest growing age group consists of those 85 or older."

n "There is a significant out-migration of young adults in rural Minnesota."

n "There is a growing labor shortage in several areas from nursing to trucking."

n "There is also a growing demand for new workers in information technology and less than half the number needed are available."

Rietz encouraged citizens to attend city meetings or watch them when they are broadcast weekly on cable Channel 6.

Saying that the city is "on the right track," Liliana Silvestry, director of The Welcome Center, said that the speech was an example of what makes Rietz a great leader.

"It is contagious how she brings out a positive way of looking at growth," Silvestry said.

"Austin has a lot of work to do, but we have the right people to do it," Silvestry added.

A transcript of Rietz’s entire speech can be found by logging onto the city of Austin’s Web site at: