CHEDA board divided over reimbursing developer for some or all of their additional costs incurred during the Castle Park debate

    The RV park topic is back on the table but, no, there's no revived effort among city officials to locate it in Castle Park.   

    But the developer who wanted to put the park there, Jeremy Jennen of Hillsboro, N.D., is apparently still interested in Crookston as a potential home for his second RV park – he has one in Hillsboro. So, in order to show some goodwill and maybe send a signal that Crookston is open for business and is a friendly environment for development, CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth suggested to his board Thursday that CHEDA reimburse Jennen for some or all of an estimated $16,200 in additional design, architectural and/or engineering costs he incurred during the effort to put the RV park in Castle Park, which ultimately was voted down 5-4 by the Crookston City Council, with Mayor Dave Genereux casting the deciding vote.   

    But a divided CHEDA board backed away from voting on reimbursing Jennen for the entire $16,200 or, later in the discussion, half of that amount. With an absent Craig Morgan indicating in a vote by proxy that he was in favor of reimbursing Jennen for the entire $16,200, Hoiseth said he thought he had enough votes on the board to support at least a partial reimbursement. But, voicing concern about a less-than-unified board on an issue that proved earlier this spring and summer to be of high interest in the community, Hoiseth said he didn't feel comfortable with the board voting on the matter Thursday, so the motion to do so was rescinded.   

    Jennen and his wife, Sarah, work with American Crystal Sugar through a contract with Express Personnel to house temporary ACS workers during the beet hauling campaign in their RV park in Hillsboro, which, like Crookston is home to an ACS factory. They wanted to do a similar development in Crookston in Castle Park to meet ACS's growing need for temporary workers, and would have put up up to $1 million to make it happen there. Crookston officials saw it as a win-win proposition, in that it would help a major employer during its fall harvest and also fill a major tourism need in the community.   

    But the proposal sparked some opposition, which grew into a firestorm that packed the city hall council chambers on more than one occasion.   

    Since the council voted down the Castle Park proposal, Hoiseth explained Thursday, ACS and Express Personnel have worked out a five-year agreement with Willie Nephew, who has a mobile home/RV development on Crookston's north end, and Nephew will be making space available for temporary ACS workers.   

    But the Jennens are still looking at Crookston as a potential RV park site, Hoiseth said, even though a portion of the revenue stream they were initially envisioning – from temporary ACS workers – is no longer an option.   

    "They're not turned off on Crookston, in fact, they're very much in favor of Crookston," he said. "And if I got anything from that (Castle Park) debate, it's that Crookston residents feel that we need an RV park in Crookston, they just don't know where to put it."   

    CHEDA board members were pulled in two directions on the matter, with some wanting to extend the Jennens an olive branch, of sorts, in the form of a full or partial reimbursement that might encourage them to keep looking at the community as a home for an RV park, and others say that developers of any ilk know that there is risk involved in any deal, and that there's no such thing as a sure thing.   

    Hoiseth said he understood both arguments, but as far as the latter one goes, he said he was the one most responsible for indicating to the Jennens, at least early on, that the RV park proposal for Castle Park was practically a slam dunk to be approved. Early on, the CHEDA board and council looked kindly upon the idea as well, and Hoiseth said even as the council asked for revisions of layouts and drawings – which the Jennens paid for – he still felt, and he still indicated to the Jennens, that the Castle Park site would eventually be approved.   

    "We fully expected it to move forward," Hoiseth said. "I encouraged them throughout. ...We knew there would be a good community debate, we expected that. But we needed to keep it moving on the development side. We couldn't stop and wait if they were going to have any chance of meeting their timeline of having something going yet this year at the Castle site.   

    "I carry the responsibility on this one, it was me giving assurances and instilling confidence," he continued.   

    "Then there's a lesson here, that you can't promise something that you might not be able to provide, because there's no sure things," Board member and council member Wayne Melbye said.   

    Hoiseth acknowledged that nothing was ever put in writing to indicate that the Jennens would be reimbursed at all for any of their costs related to the proposal.   

    Board members such as Paul Eickhof and Leon Kremeier suggested the best strategy would be to tell the Jennens they'd get their $16,200 back if they pursued an RV park elsewhere in Crookston. Hoiseth said that wasn't a bad idea, but he reminded everyone that the Castle Park site was by far the most economical site, as far as any costs the city would have incurred, and that the city was planning to gift 2.5 acres of park land to the Jennens to make it happen. At any other site the city considered for the RV park, among the many hurdles that came with each one was a substantially higher cost, Hoiseth said.   

    "Is $16,200 a lot of money? Yes, it is," he said. "But in the grand scheme with a development like this, it's really not. They're (the Jennens) going to have to reboot their expenses at a different site and do the whole process again."   

    Which is all part of being in the development business, Genereux said. "This was a speculative move to put a business in a certain location in town," he said. "There's planning and costs involved, and it's not a whole lot different than someone who wants to build a building. These were costs associated with a potential site plan that ended up not happening."   

    Hoiseth said some sort of reimbursement, even if it's just a "token gesture" to the Jennens on the city part, could go a long way, not strictly related to finances, but  when it comes to moving forward in a positive fashion.   

    "Let's face it, there was some Jennen bashing and some Crystal bashing during this, and we probably didn't keep it as professional as we could have," he said.   

    Board member Dale Stainbrook, a council member who was in favor of the Castle Park site for the RV park, said the city can't legitimately move forward on a second RV park plan until a site is picked. City Administrator Shannon Stassen agreed, but stressed that city leaders are going to face critical budget decisions on any alternative RV park plan because the ACS temporary worker component is no longer part the development and the Jennens would only be able to put up so much money.   

    Hoiseth suggested scheduling a meeting to discuss potential alternative sites in detail. "Other sites are going to be costly, but if we want this, fine, let's engage the community," he said. "But we're going to have to decide what we're willing to spend, because Castle Park was the lone cost-friendly option."