Another business park

Hunting for big economic game

Today’s Strib Business Section:  A long wait for biobusiness park at Elk Run: a story about Pine Island’s Elk Run bio-business park:

“Four years ago, developer Tower Investments unveiled an ambitious plan to turn a rural elk farm into a vibrant commercial center for biotech jobs.

Today, construction has not begun on the 2,325-acre property called Elk Run in Pine Island. There are few signs of progress at the site north of Rochester as the latest set of deadlines approach.”

What makes us think Northfield will do any better with its proposed business park?  

The total vision for Elk Run is 2,000+ acres which will establish “a new standard for mixed-use developments by fostering a high quality of life for residents alongside corporate and scientific innovation in a stunning natural setting.”  Within the 2,000 acres will be the 200 acre Bio-business Park.

At a glance, Elk Run seemed like it had a lot going for it:

  • location (on Highway 52), location (15 minutes from Rochester, Mayo, IBM, airport, workforce), location.
  • money: Venture capitalist Steve Burrill planned to create a $1 billion fund to fund the project back in 2009.
  • more money: Tower Investments (the real estate developer behind the project) + a DEED grant to the City of Pine Island financed the $2.5 million for the first phase of infrastructure.
  • important moral support from Mayo

But back in December 2010, Thomas Lee of MedCity News wondered Will God save the Elk Run Biobusiness Park project? and  MPR had a feature with comments sounding eerily like criticism in Northfield.

6 months later, June 2011, nothing but the phase 1 infrastructure has been constructed, the $1 billion fund has failed to materialize, Pine Island is on the hook to MNDoT to deliver biotech jobs by 2013 or pay penalties according to the Strib and no one returns phone calls.

My questions remain.  Before the Council approves a master plan for a business park, we need better answers to: Who pays, how will the project be managed, and what happens if the great plans don’t materialize?