NB looking to attract developers through incentive program

By Derrick Knutson—

Just a decade ago the real estate market was seemingly booming and clusters of new houses were popping up at numerous areas in North Branch.

The city’s planner/EDA director Alan Cottingham said in the early-to-mid 2000s, 100-150 new houses were being constructed in North Branch every year.

Turn the clock forward 10 years and it’s a different story.

Over the last two years only seven new houses have been built in the city and local government officials are having a tough time attracting potential developers.

A recent action by the North Branch City Council seeks to remedy that situation, at least in part.

The council approved a housing TIF (tax increment financing) incentive under its consent agenda at its regular meeting Feb. 13.

The aim of that action was to take advantage of leftover TIF money that was approved when the Ecumen senior housing development was built in 2006.

With TIF, a city essentially gives a developer a short-term tax break or building permit fee reductions in order to entice the developer to build in that particular municipality.

Those fees are later recouped when the TIF district expires.

In North Branch, the Ecumen TIF district has stayed open since the property was constructed, and the city could utilize it for other projects if there is a commitment by a developer to build.

If no development project is approved by the end of next year, the city will not be able to take advantage of pooling the financing.

North Branch city officials are working with consultants from a company called Prairie Partners Venture in order to attract a developer to build residential housing south of 400th Street.

Cottingham said the city currently doesn’t have a commitment from any builder to construct residential housing in the area.

But Cottingham hopes incentives offered by the city will attract someone to build because new developments mean an expanded tax base for the city, and the city could realize hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings if it’s able to take the leftover funds from the Ecumen TIF district and move them to the ESSBY TIF district – the 50-plus acre area off 400th  Street where no residential housing currently resides.

Mayor Amy Oehlers echoed Cottingham’s sentiment about taking advantage of the TIF pooling while that option is available.

“We’re definitely hoping to (take advantage of the pooling), that’s a lot of money we can save,” she said. “We’re hoping that someone will come forward.”

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