On the cover of today’s Post is a story about the current status of development at the I-90 and Hwy. 43 interchange. It is proposed by the Winona Area Industrial Development Association (WAIDA) to develop 100 acres there for industrial use. Winona is obviously geographically limited for further development in its core area in the valley, and developers are eying the wide open spaces on the ridges for expansion.
Expansion is at the same time good and painful. Certainly the United States didn’t expand into the Winona area without great loss. In 2013, we have the benefit of considerable study of expansion, and local experience to guide us in development — turning agricultural land into industrial or commercial land.
We watched with interest when the city dredged Lake Winona, which had become so silted in as to no longer support game fish. We liked the idea of a healthier lake, and also the idea of creating land for industrial use. Winona, although home to a diverse and thriving manufacturing segment, could have used better, higher paying jobs.
However, it was with disappointment, and not a little anger, that we watched as the area between the river and Mankato Ave. became not land for industrial expansion at all — with a few exceptions — but a large retail development. Rather than acre upon acre of businesses offering good paying jobs and paying hefty property taxes, the area filled up with retail stores.
As a retail advertising vehicle, we have no objection to new retail development in Winona. We welcome retail outlets that become good neighbors and community supporters as well as offer goods to area residents.
We fear, however, that a few — certainly not all — retailers, Walmart, for instance, do not form loyalties to particular communities.
If we look at how Walmart has operated in other markets, we find that expansion is of paramount importance to the company. In other markets, that company has abandoned one retail spot in favor of another, which offers, perhaps, a better location. Eventually the old building is sold, but depending on the real estate market, the sale can take up to years to accomplish.
We fear that if a developer is successful in developing 100 acres at the I-90/Hwy. 43 interchange, it could take many years to attract industry to fill the area. Certainly that has been the case at what is now called “Technology Park,” the area created by dredging Lake Winona. It is also the case in St. Charles. We don’t expect that the economy will remain iffy, yet have to concede that even though the stock market is gaining, local, national, and global markets are hardly rock solid.
If, say, Walmart were to pull up stakes in “Technology Park,” and move to the I-90 interchange, it would have devastating effects on the retail community in the city of Winona in the valley. We would be left with a development here that would be half-full of retail concerns, and hopes of good-paying industrial jobs at I-90 would be out the window. Future retail building would not occur in the valley, but on the Interstate, and would soon gobble up what was supposed to host industrial expansion and new industrial development. We would be back where we started, with the added burden of shuttered businesses in the valley.
We wonder if the city and developers would agree to limit the I-90 location to industry and good-paying jobs to keep our educated young people in Winona. To date, however, the city has no such desire, as can be seen by what happened to the “industrial development” at “Technology Park.” Instead, the city prefers the quick tax buck to careful planning.
We hope the scenario we outline here will not become reality, but old habits die hard at City Hall.