Council wants to see something by June.

    Concluding that there's no real rush to say yes or no to the owners of Drafts Sports Bar & Grill, who are seeking a two-year tax abatement on their new business once it opens this summer, members of the Crookston City Council, at a Ways & Means Committee meeting this week, directed CHEDA and city staff to craft  development policies that would cover existing and new business development as well as existing and new housing development.

    They asked Crookston Housing & Economic Development Executive Director Craig Hoiseth and City Administrator Tony Chladek to have something prepared for the council's perusal by the end of June.

    Brent and Jasmine Melsa asked the council for the abatement earlier this month. Their request has triggered a much larger discussion among council members and officials, with Mayor Dave Genereux first suggesting that maybe housing-related developments – beyond the abatement in the incentive package for new residential homes – that improve existing residential and rental properties be considered for potential abatements or other incentives when local property owners invest dollars in projects that benefit their neighborhoods and the community as a whole.

    Some council members have also suggested that existing business owners who expand, remodel or otherwise improve their businesses be considered for a financial pat on the back from the city. The recent remodeling at IC Muggs and Best Buy Liquor, the opening earlier this month of RBJ's C-Town Cafe, and the current renovations underway at Crooks Club have been mentioned as examples.

    "We need to view all of this as an economic development component that has some kind of formal protocol for it," Ward 1 Council Member Tom Jorgens said. "We've talked for years about things that are largely out of our control, like the gradual withering away of Local Government Aid. But this is something that we can do and control that grows our tax base, grows jobs and grows our community."

    While some council members are concerned about having their hands tied by too many policies, it's been stressed from the beginning of the discussion that the council would have the flexibility to change any policy whenever it wanted. At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye suggested that whatever policies are crafted, the council should revisit them on yearly basis. He also endorsed CHEDA taking the lead on the process.

    "They know what can and cannot be done, legally and otherwise," Melbye said. "They know what carrots they can put out there, which ones are possible and which ones might actually entice something good getting done."

    Ward 2 Council Member Dana Johnson asked that separate policies for housing and business be crafted.

A plug for Drafts, and some thoughts against
    It's estimated that a two-year abatement for Drafts would total around $18,400. Since the Melsas first made their request, it's appeared that the council is somewhat split. One council member who’s been enthusiastically in favor is Hector Santellanes in ward four. This week, he reiterated his support and encouraged his colleagues to see things his way.

    "They're hiring 30 to 40 employees, so it's not a small operation. It's an amenity, something the community has wanted for a long time, another dining option," Santellanes said. "It will bring people to the community and give local people another reason not to drive to Grand Forks. I feel we need to look past the short term and look at the longer term, when we're getting tax revenue we wouldn't have gotten otherwise from this business. It's an inexpensive way to support a local business. We need to be more appealing to business, not less appealing. The council needs to be united and set a precedent that we are a pro-business community. Not only for new businesses, but for businesses that want to expand."

    Prior to the committee meeting, at the council meeting, Crookston resident Peter Rimar had some different views on the subject. Instead of granting a tax abatement to a new bar, he said some businesses, like the Grand Theatre and the Crookston Daily Times, should be given "cultural abatements" to help ensure that they will exist in the community for many years to come. Other downtown businesses could benefit from an abatement, too, Rimar said.

    "You need some sort of plan, but an abatement for a new bar? That horse has left the barn," he told the council.