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Development effort targets a new motel for Farmington

Grow Farmington efforts have made the corner of Highway 50 and Akin Road a focus of efforts to draw new development.

After going largely dormant over the winter, a local effort to drive business development is showing new signs of life for spring.

Grow Farmington, a partnership of city and school officials with local business owners, drew more than 50 people to a meeting March 6 to talk about efforts to promote Farmington as a destination for businesses and shoppers. It was the first large-scale meeting the group has held since August.

"It just kind of got to the point where it was petering out, not from lack of interest or enthusiasm," said Clyde Rath, the president of the Farmington Business Association.

Rath said the group reached a point late last year where moving forward would have required decisions from top leadership about things like funding or who would take on what responsibilities.

To help address those needs, the group formed a steering committee made up of Rath, Dakota Regional Chamber of Commerce director Ruthe Batulis and representatives from the Farmington City Council and District 192 School Board. Since January, that group has met twice a month to talk about some of the bigger issues the Grow Farmington effort has on its plate.

The biggest of those is an effort to bring a motel to Farmington. City planner Lee Smick said there has been some progress on that front. The owner of a Lakeville hotel has shown some interest in building in Farmington, though no specific site has been identified.

"She'd just like to expand her operation and has been looking at Farmington for a while," Smick said.

A motel could create other opportunities for Farmington. A convention and visitors bureau tax on room rentals would generate money that could only be used to promote Farmington. Rath said the two motels in Apple Valley generate $140,000 a year in convention and visitors bureau taxes.

"If I had a $140,000 budget I'd be dancing a jig around town," Rath said.

As part of the effort to attract a motel, the city is gathering a wide range of information the group can use to market itself to businesses. Smick pointed out that the traffic counts at the corner of Pilot Knob Road and County Road 50, an area long targeted for commercial development, are only 1,500 cars per day lower than they are outside a Trader Joe's store on Randolph Avenue in St. Paul.

Smick is gathering that information as well as information about the number of households located within 10 and 15 minutes of that intersection.

Rath said it's all about looking at what Farmington has to offer in ways that aren't necessarily limited by the city's borders. That 10 minute drive from Pilot Knob and County Road 50, for example, will get you to 140th Street in Apple Valley. Fifteen minutes will get you to Cliff Road in Eagan. There are a lot of homes in that area, Rath pointed out, even if they don't all have 55024 zip codes.

"We have to start getting beyond that parochial vision," he said. "The story is there. It just needs to be pulled together."

There are other efforts on Grow Farmington's plate this spring. The group is looking for businesses to sponsor another season of flower planters along Highway 50, and there are plans to install new wayfaring signs around town to direct people to downtown or to Farmington High School. Smick said the group is looking at something more decorative than basic green street signs.

Those signs are needed for many. Superintendent Jay Haugen, a member of the Grow Farmington steering committee, told the group a story about coming to town to interview for his job last year and struggling to find downtown Farmington.

"Maybe we need to have a scavenger hunt to see who can find downtown," Rath said.

Rath is enthusiastic about what he has seen from the Grow Farmington effort. There have been other attempts in the past to promote development in Farmington, but most disappeared shortly after they began. Rath thinks this effort is different. He was happy to see a big crowd at last week's meeting.

"Everybody's hung together for a year and a half," he said. "I think that's longer than any of the other efforts."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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