The Herald looks back to the top stories that made 2015 based on your votes, 1-10
Published 3:05 pm Friday, January 1, 2016
1. City, Hy-Vee complete Oak Park Mall deal (56 percent of the vote)
The deal and property that had people talking for years was finally made official in 2015.
The city of Austin and Hy-Vee closed a deal in November to acquire the former Oak Park Mall through a $3.65 million Hormel Foundation grant. The deal not only paves the way for Hy-Vee to build a 60,000- to 90,000-square-foot grocery store at the mall site, it also sets up a number of dominoes for many other business changes.
Younkers is to remodel its store for the first time since the 1990s, while many other businesses from the mall moved late in 2014. The move could open up the current Hy-Vee site to eventually be turned into the visitor center planned by Vision 2020’s Gateway to Austin Committee, which has said the spot as its preferred site.
Since the deal officially closed in November, the mall parking lot — long a source of public scrutiny — has seen some repairs, and initial work started on the mall demolition, though the work is expected to kick into gear in 2016.
However, CineMagic 7’s owner Odyssey Entertainment spoke out about the deal, arguing the development plan puts them in “a dead-end experimental retail alleyway.” Theater officials have said the theater could potentially close without an amended agreement.
2. The David Madison murder case (30 percent of the vote)
The case that gripped the city of Austin for more than a week in early November is far from over.
It all started when David Madison, 39, was found murdered on Nov. 1 in the Cedar River along Highway 105 south of Austin. A medical examiner found Madison died of “non-accidental blunt head trauma and ligature strangulation,” according to court documents.
That started a week that included police blocking off a home in northeast Austin and a home on South Main Street, which the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension searched for evidence.
At the end of the week, Michael McIntosh, 37, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty.
In the weeks leading to his death, Madison reportedly told people he feared McIntosh wanted to harm him after tension formed between the men after Madison slept with McIntosh’s girlfriend while McIntosh was in jail for prior charges, according to court documents.
Macintosh is due in court for a pretrial on Feb. 12, 2016, and a trial is scheduled for Feb. 22, 2016. He faces a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison if convicted.
3. Fight breaks out at AHS (23 percent of the vote)
A “large-scale fight” that included dozens of people brawling in the street outside Austin High School and repeated acts of violence, while onlookers took video and encouraged the participants to fight broke out Sept. 28, resulting in brief lock downs at Austin High School.
The incident started when AHS liaison officer Jim Lunt heard screaming and found a large gathering of students screaming and yelling. Austin police and Mower County deputies responded around 3:15 p.m. to AHS after the fights and a report of a suspect with a gun near the school’s west entrance.
An investigation found the fight may have stemmed from a prior fight between high school girls, which resulted in the adults gathering and the eventual “riot.”
Odell Dorrea McCullough, 27, was charged with second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and second-degree rioting with a dangerous weapon — both felonies. After initially pleading not guilty, he changed his plea to guilty for second-degree rioting with a dangerous weapon on Dec. 18.
Angel Alicia McCullough, 30, and Willie J.M. Brunt, 27, both pleaded not guilty to charges of felony second-degree rioting with a dangerous weapon and misdemeanor assault with a dangerous weapon.
Someone yelled out that they saw a gun during the fight, but it turned out to be nunchucks.
The Austin City Council later recognized and thanked Lunt for his work in preventing the situation from being any worse.
4. Wescott Athletic Complex converts to field turf, adds seasonal dome (23 percent of the vote)
Vision 2020, The Hormel Foundation and Austin Public Schools partnered to add a big, inflatable asset to the community in December.
A seasonal dome was officially erected and opened in early December, and coaches and athletes have been thrilled with the opportunities provided by the dome.
The dome will be open to Austin athletic teams for practices, walkers and for rentals.
Vision 2020 Director Greg Siems said the dome fills a need for Austin. Through community surveys, Vision 2020 sought to gauge ways to improve recreational opportunities. Siems said one of the biggest things that came up was the need for a covered, seasonal field for multipurpose uses.
“Here we have it,” he said during the Dec. 12 dome opening. “This really is such a great thing. We have the perfect conditions for year-round recreation right here in Austin.”
Austin Public Schools contributed $2.5 million from school reserves, and the Hormel Foundation donated $2.7 million.
5. Spam Museum (23 percent of the vote)
The museum is coming in 2016.
On April 21, Hormel Foods Corp. broke ground on the new Spam Museum downtown between Second and Fourth Avenues on the east side of North Main Street
Work on the 14,000-square-foot, one floor building moved quickly with the frame erected by mid-summer 2015 before the building was enclosed before winter set in.
Vision 2020’s Destination Downtown committee approached Hormel officials in fall 2013 about using the fire site formerly owned by the Austin Port Authority as a new location for the Spam Museum. Since then, Hormel has worked with several organizations including the city of Austin to move existing businesses out of the Ciola’s building and into other spaces.
Now the museum is going downtown, city officials hope the increased tourism, along with several other major projects through Vision 2020, will continue Austin’s current growth.
The original Spam Museum opened in 1991 inside the Oak Park Mall. Hormel officials created a new location for the Spam Museum in 2001 at 1101 N. Main St., connected to Hormel’s corporate office south building.
The new location is set for a soft opening in spring 2016 with a grand opening in conjunction with Hormel’s 125th anniversary in July 2016.
6. Business changes (17 percent of the vote)
The community welcomed many new businesses — including several familiar ones — in 2015, while bidding farewell to some as well.
While the year started out on a sour note when Target officially closed early this year, it also saw two businesses that had closed return in Hardees and Pizza Hut — both were reopened by different franchise groups. Pizza Hut opened at 1004 18th Ave. NW in March and Hardees debuted in September at 1406 Fourth St. NW.
Ivy’s Ink tattoo parlor returned to the Jim’s MarketPlace strip after opening in 2009 and later closing when owner Chad Iverson moved to Florida.
Linda Smith opened Emerge Fitness at a 207 11th St. NE, adding to about 10 such fitness clubs the family owns in four states. They aimed for the spot to be a nice, easygoing place for people to stay fit on the east side of Austin.
In Grand Meadow, new owners transformed the old Grumpy’s Bar into Crazy Jane’s Place.
But Austin bid farewell to a Bustad Excavating Service, which auctioned off its equipment before closing in August. Bustad’s, as it’s known around town, has been involved in many demolition projects around town over the years. Bustad demolished the previous Hormel Foods Corp. Austin plant in the early ‘80s, among other projects.
Frozen yogurt shop Sassy Strawberry also closed its 18th Avenue Northwest shop in September, though it kept a few Iowa locations open.
7. Hormel buys Applegate, names Snee 10th president (16 percent of the vote)
Austin’s Fortune 500 company stayed plenty active in 2015 on its way to a year that saw it earnings of $686.1 million.
Perhaps the biggest move for Hormel Foods Corp. came in October when James Snee joined CEO and Chairman Jeffrey Ettinger in the company’s highest leadership ranks as the company’s 10th president and as chief operating officer.
Snee is now overseeing all of the company’s business segments and global operations including Grocery Products, Refrigerated Foods, Specialty Foods, Jennie-O Turkey Store and International, and will continue to report to Ettinger.
Hormel also bought Applegate Farms, which specializes in organic and natural prepared meats, in July for about $775 million, along with adding new products like Skippy P.B. Bites and Spam Snacks.
It wasn’t all good though, as Hormel saw its Jennie-O Turkey Store lines hit hard by the avian influenza outbreak earlier this year.
8. Zabel suspect acquitted (13 percent of the vote)
An Austin family didn’t get the confirmation and closure it was expecting in 2015.
A Philadelphia jury acquitted Marcellus Jones of the 2008 murder of Austin native Beau Zabel on Dec. 9. Jones is already serving a life sentence without parole after being convicted in the 2006 killing of Tyrek Taylor, the alleged getaway driver in Zabel’s killing.
Prosecutors argued Jones killed Taylor for fear he would talk to police.
The verdict was especially stunning considering that Jones testified Tuesday in his defense and his prior murder conviction and five earlier robbery convictions were made known to the jury.
In often-rambling testimony in which he complained his trial was unfair, Jones denied involvement in Zabel’s or Taylor’s deaths.
Detectives got tips that Jones purportedly told relatives and friends he had to silence Taylor because he wouldn’t stop talking about how Jones had “killed the teacher.” However, relatives, including Jones sister, denied the claims in court.
For the family of the 23-year-old Zabel, who had moved to Philadelphia just six weeks before he was killed in preparation for a Drexel University teaching fellowship, the verdict was a disheartening end of a seven-year journey to get justice for their son.
His mother, Lana Hollerud, and stepfather, Terry Zabel, their daughter Brook and younger son Brice, and several other relatives sat silently in court, wiping tears as the verdict was announced.
9. Myron and Betty Young pass away (11 percent of the vote)
Myron and Betty Young spent more than 67 years together and they weren’t going to spend many days apart. Myron died Jan. 11, and Betty passed away two days later on Jan. 13. The couple was known around town, as Betty was a probation officer for Mower County for 30 years, and Myron was a farmer with several jobs. The couple raised three children — Brian, Wanda Gwinn and Norris — on Myron’s family farm in rural Oakland, where they remained most of their life.
Betty was diagnosed about three years ago with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Myron helped fill in wherever needed as Betty grew weaker from the disease. The couple’s health declined late last year. Myron was treated at Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin for the flu on Dec. 22, 2014, and Betty went to Mayo Clinic Hospital — St. Marys Campus in Rochester on Dec. 24, 2014, due to health issues. Family recalled it was hard for the couple to be apart so long. On New Year’s Eve 2014, Betty was moved to St. Mark’s nursing home, and Myron followed on Jan. 5, 2015, though he was in a coma-like state. But on Jan. 7, Myron woke up and the couple spent some time together reminiscing about their lives, saying “I love you,” and holding hands.
10. QPP vows change after undercover video (11 percent of the vote)
Austin’s Quality Pork Processors found itself in the spotlight after video surfaced of alleged animal rights violations captured by an undercover animal rights investigator posing as a worker at the plant. QPP also announced it would further discipline employees that exhibited aggressive behaviors and it will retrain all employees on proper animal handling and conduct, along with several other measures.
Compassion Over Killing released video clips in November that were shot in September and October by a former worker at QPP’s Austin plant, which solely services Hormel. The video shows workers taking “inhumane shortcuts that lead to extreme suffering” to keep the slaughter lines moving, according to Erica Meier, executive director of the Washington-based animal rights group.
A few days later, Hormel Foods Corp. called on Quality Pork Processors to make changes, and the Austin slaughterhouse announced it was enacting corrective measures.
In mid-December, QPP released a statement stating it has worked with the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure the incident isn’t repeated.
The investigator argued most issues stemmed from the need to keep production lines moving fast, and Compassion Over Killing called for the USDA to reconsider or cease the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Inspection Models Project (HIMP), an inspection system that involves fewer USDA inspectors and quicker processing lines. QPP’s Austin plant is one of a few across the country that’s testing the process.
However, little has been discussed about HIMP in QPP and Hormel’s response.