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Council challenges designer's predictions (10/23/2013)
By Chris Rogers
The assertions made by Levee Park designers that Winona manufacturing jobs are on the decline and the tourism sector jobs may soon surpass them ran up against a staunch defense of local industry from the Winona City Council on Monday.

"The perceived demise of manufacturing in Winona as a transportation hub nothing could be further from the truth," said council member Paul Double. "Industrial activity is alive and well," he added. In an interview after the meeting, Double said he was amazed by the growth in local industrial businesses in recent years and called the idea that manufacturing is declining "hogwash." Council member George Borzyskowski agreed, "Manufacturing is a stronghold for this community."

In past meetings of the Levee Park Committee, designer and University of Minnesota professor Matt Tucker highlighted U.S. Census data that depict a steady loss of manufacturing jobs and the growth of arts, recreation, lodging, and food-related jobs during the last 60 years in the city of Winona. From those trends, he projected a "larger paradigm shift from manufacturing economy to a service economy" in Winona. In the big picture, Winona seems to be headed in the direction of postindustrial river cities like Pittsburgh where "the infastructure that used to make sense for industry no longer makes sense," he added at a July meeting.

As previously reported in the Winona Post, while the island city has lost manufacturing jobs over the latter half of the 20th century, the sector has been growing in recent years and state economic forecasts call for continued local growth. It is also worth noting that, on average, tourism sector jobs pay far less than manufacturing jobs. However, in a recent meeting of the Levee Park committee, Tucker presented the same message from July: a vision of a future in which manufacturing had dwindled, barge traffic had slowed to a crawl, and tourism had become the new lifeblood of the island city.

Last week, the committee directed him to omit negative statements about manufacturing from his presentation. Tucker rephrased some of his presentation, referring to "declines we're seeing statewide" in manufacturing, as opposed to previous statements, in which Tucker made clear his diagnosis of a downward trend in manufacturing was specific to Winona.

Tucker demonstrated a certain amount of diplomacy, touching upon a point local leaders have emphasized: the fact that successful tourism and industry sectors benefit each other and saying, "Our point here is not to say that we should replace manufacturing and industry, it's an understanding that arts, tourism and natural resources can really serve as an important aspect" of the local economy. He highlighted parks across the globe that embrace industry, where old silos and cranes have been converted into overlooks and where ongoing industrial operations neighbor public spaces.

His presentation did, however, refer to a vision of a "postindustrial" future for Winona, where a rising service industry had birthed a cultural and economic renaissance. Increased river level volatility is predicted by the federal experts, Tucker said. That will make regular barge traffic more difficult, and may lead to a transition from industrial uses of the Mississippi River to recreation and ecotourism, he has suggested.

Council member Michele Alexander said, "I'd love to see something happen at Levee Park, but I want us to remember if the businesses that are here were not here, we wouldn't have ecotourism." She pointed out that manufacturers are major donors for some local cultural events, "not to mention that they employ a large portion of our community." She continued, "To look forward to our future and see that we no longer have a healthy industrial, manufacturing riverfront would be devastating to our community. I hope that as we move forward with Levee Park, we'll continue to develop one of our strong suits, which is one the largest manufacturing, industrially-strong riverfronts in the state."

Project halfway, designers say; open house tomorrow

A revamp of the city's riverfront park has been dreamed of for decades and conceptual designs have been brought forward by several past committees, but never executed. New Winona Mayor Mark Peterson has made the park project his central platform and renewed efforts to beautify Winona's "concrete park" and reconnect the town and the river. Tucker's presentation to the council was intended as a progress update on his and the Levee Park Committee's work halfway through Tucker's contract to develop a conceptual design and implementation plan. Specific design proposals have yet to be discussed in detail by the committee; much of the recent work on the park revamp project has involved looking ahead to discern details of Winona's future, a task local governments usually accomplish through planning departments and comprehensive plans. Tucker and the committee have drawn upon Winona's 2007 Comprehensive Plan, but some of Tucker's scenarios diverge from the future city leaders have previously planned for.

Tucker and the committee will host a public open house to glean public input on the park project and gauge citizens' responses to three "what if" scenarios involving shifting economics, decreased barge traffic, and increased fuel prices. The open house is tomorrow, Thursday, October 24, at the Winona County History Center. The open house will begin at 4:30 p.m. and a presentation will start at 5 p.m.

Thursday's open house will be the committee's third event seeking public input. However, there are currently no plans to seek public input after specific design proposals are developed.

Cytec expansion proposal

Port Authority officers announced a proposal to help fund an expansion to adhesive and resin maker Cytec Engineered Materials at Monday's council meeting. The $12 million project would include a addition to the company's existing site at Third and Olmstead streets the company received a variance earlier this summer to construct an addition on Fourth Street new equipment, and training for employees. Port Authority Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin said educational partnerships with composite programs at Winona State University and Southeast Technical College have been discussed.

Under the proposal, $500,000 of the expansion would be funded by a Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF) loan, a program of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. McMartin added that a up to $150,000 in funding from the Port Authority's own revolving loan fund was also being considered for the project. The council's approval is needed to authorize the MIF loan. A vote is expected next month. 


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