Where to from here?: A look forward to the big stories of 2016

Hy-Vee's acquisition of the Oak Park Mall and store relocation will be one of the major story lines to watch in 2016. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Hy-Vee’s acquisition of the Oak Park Mall and store relocation will be one of the major story lines to watch in 2016. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

 

We’re only a few days into 2016, but there’s no shortage of intriguing stories on the horizon for Austin, Mower County, Minnesota and the nation to watch for this year. Here are some questions, in no particular order, we’re anxious to have answered this year:

How fast will work move to convert Oak Park Mall into a new Hy-Vee?

Hy-Vee acquired the mall in 2015, but 2016 appears to be the year we learn more about what the new grocery store will look like at the site, while much of the structure should also come down.

The city of Austin completed a deal to acquire the former Oak Park Mall through a $3.65 million grant from The Hormel Foundation. It paves the way for Hy-Vee to build a 60,000- to 90,000-square-foot grocery store at the mall site.

Store Manager Todd Hepler has said work should move quickly and be steady until the new store opens. Hepler has said the new store would likely include a large health foods and frozen foods sections, and the new store could increase the bulk items from about 30 options to 160 or even 200 bins for items like nuts, granola and dried fruits that are bought in bulk, commonly in small plastic bags.

Hy-Vee could boost staffing levels from about 365 to about 575 to 600.

Several new departments could also be added at the new store, and Hepler said Hy-Vee will likely increase its online buying department.

Younkers also plans to remodel its store for the first time since 1993. However, CineMagic 7’s owner Odyssey Entertainment spoke out about the deal, arguing the development plan puts the theater in “a dead-end experimental retail alleyway.” Theater officials have said the theater could potentially close without an amended agreement.

Plans could tick ahead on the visitor center planned by Vision 2020’s Gateway to Austin Committee since the current Hy-Vee site is its preferred site.

 

McIntosh

McIntosh

Will McIntosh go to trial and what details will come out if it does?

Judging from the details revealed in the court complaint, the David Madison murder would feature no shortage of questions if it were to go to trial in 2016.

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.

Michael McIntosh, 37, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the case. Macintosh is due in court for a pretrial on Feb. 12, 2016, and a trial is scheduled for Feb. 22, 2016. McIntosh faces a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison if convicted.

While a plea deal seems unlikely, the trail could conceivably be pushed back for a variety of reasons.

When the case eventually goes to trial, court documents revealed many details about the case that would likely play into the trial:

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.

Plus court documents allege witnesses saw Madison after he was badly beaten but still breathing, and the girlfriend may have exchanged texts with Madison earlier that night.

Will local plans get bonding dollars and will transportation be addressed?

The 2016 state session looks to be a busy one, especially the announcement that the state should have a $1.2 billion surplus for 2016-17.

The biggest question could be transportation funding, as the Minnesota Department of Transportation projects a $6 billion gap between transportation needs and the available funding over the next decade; however, state Republicans and Democrats remain split on how to address the issues.

The Mower County board is also on the verge of discussing a half-cent sales tax to gauge what projects the county could complete with extra money; however, board members have openly criticized the state for not address the funding shortfalls.

As for the bonding bill, Austin and watershed leaders are seeking dollars for three waterways projects. The city of Austin is seeking $600,000 for the Fourth Avenue Northeast Dam area for flood control retaining walls, restoring the old mill site, for stream bank restorations and to study dam conditions. And it’s seeking $3 million in state bonding dollars for the Ramsey Dam area and Ramsey Mill Pond near The Old Mill Restaurant to acquire more land, build two miles of trail, restore a railroad bridge, improve the dam and build public amenities to improve the area. Cedar River Watershed District leaders are also seeking $4.2 million for the Accelerated Results Plan, which will complete 25 water retention and water quality projects in the district. The CRWD already has half the money for the $8.4 million project. The district is providing $1.2 million, the Hormel Foundation is providing $3 million, and the district is looking for the state to match those funds.

Riverland Community College officials are requesting $7.43 million for campus changes for Albert Lea to become the transportation, trade and industrial education center and to relocate the truck driving and collision repair programs from Austin to Albert Lea.

 Who will be elected?

The question seems so simple, but an already crowded election season is about to kick into high gear leading to the Nov. 8 election.

Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton have attracted countless headlines — and no shortage of controversy — on the national front in the presidential race, but several state and local races will garner attention as well.

While the state’s U.S. Senate, governor’s seat and constitutional offices aren’t up for grabs, all 201 state House and Senate seats are up for grabs, including the seats of District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, District 27B Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, and District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea. Albert Lea Democrat Gary Schindler already announced his candidacy to run against Bennett.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-First District, is up for reelection, and Blue Earth Republican Jim Hagedorn has already announced his intentions to challenge Walz again after losing in 2014.

Locally, the county will see 1st District Commissioner Tim Gabrielson and 2nd District Commissioner Polly Glynn up for reelection. The city of Austin will see the seats of Mayor Tom Stiehm, 1st Ward Council member Michael Jordal, 2nd Ward Council member Steve King and 3rd Ward Council member Jeremy Carolan up for new four year terms.

The Austin Utilities Board of Commissioners also has three seats expiring at the end of 2016.

Austin School Board seats up this election include the seats of Don Leathers, Dick Lees and Mary Jane Kestner.

The filing period for seats with a primary and general election will be from May 17 to 31 ahead of the Aug. 9 primary. For seats without a primary election, filing will be Aug. 2 to 16.

For the presidential race, the Minnesota precinct caucuses are March 1. Some other key dates to watch for: The Iowa caucuses are Feb. 1, the New Hampshire Primary is Feb. 9, the Republican National Convention is July 18-21 and the Democratic National Convention is July 25-28.

 

With the help of Goldy the Gopher, The Hormel Institute announced in November 2015 a grant from the University of Minnesota of $1.5 million for the institute’s Live Learning Center. Herald file photo

With the help of Goldy the Gopher, The Hormel Institute announced in November 2015 a grant from the University of Minnesota of $1.5 million for the institute’s Live Learning Center. Herald file photo

What can we expect from the remodeled Hormel Institute and Live Learning Center?

The Hormel Institute will unveil its remodeled building and its new Live Learning Center with a grand opening June 1.

The Hormel Foundation and the Hormel Institute kicked off the project to build a $6.5 million apartment complex, dubbed Science Park Housing, to house incoming researchers as the Institute’s expansion wraps up.

Science Park Housing, located at Eighth Street and 17th Avenue Northeast across the street from the Institute, will have 42 units, 30 of which will be one-bedroom apartments.

The Institute continues work on a $28.5 million, 74,000-square-foot expansion, which will add 20 labs and about 120 new employees once it’s completed.

Early this year, The Institute should complete the $4.5 million Live Learning Center. The center will feature state-of-the-art technology for global communications, including high-definition video conferencing, inside of a 250-seat lecture hall with theater-style seating. It will have an adjacent multipurpose room for various uses, including poster sessions by scientists during research conferences.

Events are already slated for the Live Learning Center. It’s first research conference will be The China-U.S. Frontiers in Cancer Research symposium on June 1-3 followed by the International Skin Carcinogenesis Conference on Sept. 21-24.

What will the new Spam Museum look like and how will it affect downtown Austin?

Austin has watched for many months as the site of the new Spam Museum on North Main Street was transformed from a bare patch of land to a series of beams to a new brick building. Now we want a look inside.

Many downtown businesses are also discussing how to best benefit from the added traffic generated by the museum.

Hormel Foods Corp. is also ready to celebrate its 125th anniversary. A joint museum grand opening and celebration of Hormel’s 125 years is planned for 2 to 10:30 p.m. July 29 along North Main Street from First Avenue Northwest to the Austin Municipal Pool. The celebration will feature two stages with live bands and fireworks, among other things.

Hormel representatives say plans for the event are still coming together.

 

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