2020 City Council Election Profile: Blake Royal
First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
I am married to Natalie (Schenck) Royal. We have two children ages 6 and 2. My wife and I were both born and raised in Crookston. I attended college at UMC for a semester before deciding to enroll in the fire fighter program at Lake Superior College in Duluth. After finishing college, I joined the Marine Corps Reserve and returned to Crookston. Shortly after, I began working as a fire fighter for the City of Grand Forks. I also work part time for the Crookston Area Ambulance. In addition, I have a property rental business that a partner and I started in 2012. Natalie and I were living in Grand Forks as we both worked there. When we had our first child, we decided we wanted to raise our family in Crookston. We built a new home in the Natures View Estates.
Why are you running for Crookston City Council?
I am running for city council because I believe we can do better. The last few years have been tough for me to watch the way our current council operates. I believe it’s time for new leadership that can work together or at least agree to disagree and do what’s best for the city.
Can you list what you think are the three best things the Crookston community has going for it at this particular moment in time, and reasons why you chose these three things?
Crookston has several good things going for it. We have a nice development in Natures View Estates. It has filled much faster than I ever would have guessed. A good housing market is key to getting new people to town and retaining people who are looking to buy a home. Another thing we have going for us is the new hospital. RiverView provides many great paying jobs and offers a quality healthcare experience. We also have many service groups and sporting group associations that help make the city better in many ways. Without their labor or financial backing, this city wouldn’t be as nice a place that it is.
On the flip side, what trio of challenges facing the Crookston community are the most daunting, in your view? What can/should/needs to be done to tackle these challenges?
Some of the most daunting challenges we face as a community are the retention of our businesses. With the internet and Grand Forks so close, they face a lot of competition. We need to look at what we can do to help retain those we have and look for new ones that compliment them. One thing we could look at is partnering with businesses, the area colleges and the city to help create the strongest businesses we can. Too often we throw money at the problem rather than being proactive. Sometimes that is needed; but I’d also like to see a group who could help new and existing businesses look at their operation to see if they can do things better or offer additional services.
Housing is another issue we have. We need a good mix of beginner homes and some higher end homes. We tend to concentrate on beginner housing for good reason being they need the most help. That being said, the higher end housing is normally for that professional who requires support staff in their jobs. This leads to more jobs and a higher taxable base for the city. We need to start planning the next development in the city now so when we fill the current ones we are positioned to keep moving forward.
Please describe what you envision downtown Crookston will be like in 10 years.
Downtown in ten years is a really tough question. If we look at ten years prior to today, we have a lot more open store fronts with many current businesses struggling to remain open. I hope that we don’t continue to lose businesses but we need to be ready for that possibility. Leading back to my housing statement earlier, if that happens, we could be a prime bedroom community and hope with the young families we can get more businesses to open up. I know calling Crookston a bedroom community won’t be popular with some, but we can’t ignore that it’s a real possibility or we will be an empty community.
If you had to grade the performance of the Crookston City Council, mayor position and City administration over the past five years, what grade would you give? Please explain why you chose the grade you did.
I believe grading the current city council is a two part question. I give them a B+ when it comes to the budget. I think they do a good job and the department heads make good use of their resources. I see departments driving around older pickup trucks and it makes me happy to know we aren’t wasting money on trucks. Now on the council working together with the CVB, CHEDA and Chamber, I give them a D. I get upset to read the news of another council meeting that led to a vote where it’s two sides not willing to budge. At some point, one group needs to say OK we will give in this area if you can give over here. I’m not saying they need to like each other, but for the betterment of the city, work with each other.
Please finish this sentence: The Crookston community is…
The Crookston community is a great place to raise a family. We have a great public school system as well as a couple parochial schools and the college. There are many options for our children to be involved in sports and music and art programs.
Can you list two people in your life that have particularly inspired you, or two people that you especially admire and try to emulate? Please explain your choices.
Two people who have inspired me in life are my dad and my father-in-law. My dad often worked more than one job to provide for the family and to reach his goal of early retirement. He would start his day around 3-4 am but would still be at my sporting events late into the evening. He encouraged me to get my first job as a paper boy in about the third or fourth grade. Watching him work so hard has led me to working multiple jobs most of my life. I found myself working five jobs to help put my wife through graduate school. My father-in-law is a quiet professional who does things the right way. He has gotten me into new hobbies of hunting, fishing and wood working that we do together. I find myself spending more time with him than my friends.