In a conversation the other day about the new apartments on North Broadway being proposed by APG Development of West Fargo (of which Crookston native Elliot Steinbrink is a partner), one of the people with a say in the matter tried to use a couple famous sayings in making the case for the apartments becoming a reality in Crookston.

    He said something about “a bird in the hand” and then in the next breath uttered something about “looking a gift horse in the mouth.”

    He was trying to articulate the notion that if a developer wants to construct two nice, new apartment buildings and garages at what would seem to be an ideal location in the community, and ask for very little from the City of Crookston or CHEDA in order to do so, it’s pretty tough to say no thanks to them.

    It’s an interesting time for rental housing in Crookston right now. A massive housing study a few years ago said Crookston needed new rental housing options, especially market-rate apartments. Since then, The market-rate “The Meadows” apartments opened next to Crookston Sports Center and filled up, and Agassiz Townhomes – with income eligibility guidelines – was built on North Broadway. (The latter’s 30 units are not yet fully occupied.)

    Many see Crookston as a relatively low-income community that, especially, lacks property wealth. That’s why Crookston’s budget and property tax levy are impacted by state Local Government Aid probably more than any other city in Minnesota. Crookston this year received more than $3.5 million in LGA.

    But, strangely enough, The Meadows proved to be a hit from the get-go, and, wouldn’t you know it, people seem to dig developer Bob Herkenhoff’s big residential home lots, on which they’ve built and continue to build big, expensive homes.

    So there is some money being spent in the community on places to live, whether you own them or rent them.

    Developers are developers for a reason, and they want to strike when the iron is hot and maximize the return on their investment. The popularity of The Meadows put up the bat signal, so to speak, indicating there is a market for market-rate apartments in Crookston. APG Development saw the signal.

    If their two-phase apartment project comes to fruition, will it strain existing landlords even more? Will their vacancy rate increase as a result? That’s a safe bet. But at the root of capitalism in a free economy is competition, and whether you’re an established landlord or a developer who’s just built a new apartment building, you’re going to have to be competitively priced and you’re going to have to offer a nice product that tenants want.

    People like to complain about what Crookston lacks, which is unavoidable and happens probably even in the biggest cities that seemingly have everything. People also like to complain, also rightly so, when their town gets too much of one thing. Crookston is sort of famous for this. Yes, the whole competition thing probably applies, too, but a town of less than 8,000 people can’t go from zero frozen yogurt places to two and expect both to survive. In the end, neither survives. We can’t support several places to get a cup of coffee and maybe a sandwich and then complain when one of them closes that we don’t have enough coffee and sandwich options in Crookston.

    But frozen yogurt and coffee aren’t pillars rising from the bedrock of a community. Housing is a pillar. Rental housing is a huge part of housing.

    If APG Development can make this happen, it’s good for Crookston. Their efforts should be embraced.