Stillwater, Bayport, Oak Park Heights mayors share ‘state of the city’

Bayport Mayor Susan St. Ores, left, speaks during the inaugural Eggs and Issues event hosted by the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce May 10 at the Lowell Inn in Stillwater. (Gazette staff photo by Alicia Lebens)

Over scrambled eggs and cups of coffee, business owners and local elected officials listened to the “State of the City” of Stillwater, Bayport and Oak Park Heights during the first “Eggs and Issues” breakfast event May 10, hosted by the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce at the Lowell Inn in Stillwater. Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski, Bayport Mayor Susan St. Ores and Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber shared highlights from the past year and issues facing their respective cities in the coming year.

About 60 people attended the inaugural event, said chamber executive director Robin Anthony. The Eggs and Issues breakfasts will take place quarterly and will feature panel discussions on issues facing businesses and the community.

Oak Park Heights

Many of the streets in Oak Park Heights have been updated in past years, and McComber hopes the city’s new master road plan will protect the infrastructure investment.

“We have created a master road plan because this year we basically redid all of the streets on the east side of the city,” McComber said. “We have had a lot of new roads put in as part of the Highway 36 construction and the bridge construction, so having a master road plan will help us preserve that.”

The city also created a master plan for the new Oak Park Crossing Park, located on the former Xcel Energy fly-ash disposal site, in order to plan future investments into park amenities. In the past year, the city has received the League of Minnesota Cities City of Excellence award for its partnership with volunteers and local business in the creation of the park.

In 2016, the Oak Park Heights Police Department led the way in the use of body cameras, McComber said.

“We were one of the very first police departments to go live with body cameras, and they’ve been a good example to other departments to see how they work in our city and it has been excellent,” she said.

Looking forward, McComber said the city is excited for the completion of construction on Highway 36 and the St. Croix Crossing bridge.

“We have had so much disruption for our business and our residents with all of the construction on Highway 36, and we are looking forward to finally have everything moving,” McComber said.

Bayport

St. Ores said the city of Bayport is nearing the complete development of land within the city.

“Bayport is pretty much at capacity for growth and available land for expansion, so what we are doing is better for businesses, how to make it better for our residents and how to keep a very high level of services while keeping taxes as low as we possibly can,” St. Ores said.

City planning in Bayport has turned to supporting business and infrastructure already in place.

“We have been focusing at maintaining our local businesses and pursuing some economic redevelopment opportunities,” St. Ores said.

One way the city has supported business is by being the local agent to administer state funds for a $22 million expansion at Andersen Windows. The project brought 190 new jobs to Bayport, St. Ores said.

In the year to come, Bayport will embark on a large-scale utility infrastructure project.

“We are also an aging city,” St. Ores said. “We have the first of our big infrastructure projects this summer and will enable two of our relatively new businesses to join city water and sewer and fixing where our water and sewer are in need.”

Stillwater

Kozlowski said now is a great time to be a part of the Stillwater community.

“We have a lot going on,” Kozlowski said.

One of the biggest additions to Stillwater is the city’s purchase of the north and south Aiple properties along the St. Croix River.

“Now the city really controls and owns the vast majority of our waterfront,” Kozlowski said. “We get to collectively decide how we want to use that property, how to best use that property and how it is going to benefit generations to come. I think that is an incredibly exciting opportunity for us.”

Not many communities have the opportunity to have public ownership of their waterfront properties, Kozlowski said.

“What is less fun is figuring out how we are going to pay for it,” Kozlowski said.

Other major projects facing the city now are two senior living and care facilities that will cater to residents as they age.

“I think all of us up here are looking at demographics where the community is aging,” Kozloski said.

In recent years, Stillwater has made investments in public safety through a new fire station and a partnership with the Minnesota National Guard emergency readiness center. This year, Stillwater is working on updating spaces for the city’s police department.

“What you quickly realize is how challenging those jobs are,” Kozlowski said. “Overall major crime is down … one of the things that really worries me about our officers is that their job has gotten worse. They are dealing with more mental health cases, they are dealing with more domestic cases, they are dealing with more juvenile cases and they have a really hard job.”

The updates to the police station will give officers the tools they need to be safe, Kozlowski said.

Biggest challenges

All three mayors said funding is the biggest challenge as their cities strive to keep budgets in check.

“The biggest challenge for me is funding,” Kozlowski said. “I think we are going get a little creative as we look forward over the next 15-30 years to fund a lot of these projects to benefit the community.”

“It’s about trying to be creative while trying to keep the level of service that we have, maintain all of our streets and buildings and keep it a city that people are proud of, but it all comes at a cost,” McComber said.

As Bayport enters into a large infrastructure project, St. Ores said it is a goal to keep costs is line.

“Not over-burdening our business and taxpayers is top of mind right now,” St. Ores said.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]