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Credit union in talks to build in St. Paul Park

A Kentucky-based credit union might fill the vacant lot at the corner of Summit Avenue and St. Paul Park Road in St. Paul Park.

The 31,000-square-foot plat, which is in need of landscaping and tree removal, has sat empty since the city acquired the land in 2002. Throughout the last decade, City Administrator Kevin Walsh said ideas for the property have been entertained, but none as promising as the recent development with Ashland Credit Union.

Shortly after the property was put up for sale in February 2012, the city was contacted by the credit union which was looking to expand its current Broadway Avenue location.

The St. Paul Park Ashland Credit Union, formerly Norco Credit Union, first opened in the late 1950s and serves employees of the refinery now owned by Northern Tier Energy.

Now, after nearly a year-long courtship with the southern-based banking institution, St. Paul Park is ready to talk numbers.

Ashland Credit Union is proposing paying $40,000 for the lot on which it would construct a new facility with a drive-thru and possibly a new city landmark, such as a clock tower. Along with the price of the land, the credit union is also going to invest a large amount of money to restore the property, install water and sewer lines and possibly vacate a portion of a nearby alley for access.

The county recently conducted an appraisal of the 0.72 acres and valued the property at $87,000, a significant decrease from a 2007 appraisal of $180,000. While limited right-of-way at the busy intersection and the unwillingness of the county to construct a curb cut is likely to have caused the property value decrease, St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke said he isn't dissuaded from making a deal.

"My whole thing is we want to develop that corner," Franke said. "I've been in talks with (Ashland Credit Union) for a while and they are very open to our community. This is an opportunity that would bring a few extra jobs to St. Paul Park and I think it will be a benefit to not only our citizens but also to the entire area."

The council expressed its support of the proposed development agreement, but council member Jennifer Cheesman wanted more money for the property.

"It's an unusual piece of land and I think it's a wonderful idea," she said. "But, I think we should counter-offer."

Cheesman queried council members as to what a similar plot of land would be valued at in neighboring cities and said St. Paul Park should aim for a higher selling price. However, Franke suggested that asking for a significantly higher price would be "jumping over dollars to save pennies."

While the council continues to draft a development agreement with Ashland Credit Union, council member Jeff Swenson urged the council to include a clause that would require construction to begin immediately.

"I don't want to just give this property away and then have them hold onto it only to sell it later on for a profit," Swenson said. "We have the chance to put something in there that would be perfect (for that lot)."

The council agreed on the condition to build stipulation and discussed requiring the credit union deposit a 10-percent, nonrefundable down payment to secure the property.

Walsh said that the project is still in the early negotiation phase but anticipates securing a development agreement as early as the April 1 council meeting.