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St. Paul Park mayoral candidates differ on development

St. Paul Park Mayor John Hunziker and challenger Keith Franke squared off at a League of Women Voters forum Tuesday. Bulletin photo by Jon Avise

St. Paul Park mayoral challenger Keith Franke sought to position himself as a more aggressive advocate for attracting development to the city during a debate Tuesday with Mayor John Hunziker at St. Paul Park City Hall.

Franke, a St. Paul Park bar owner and political newcomer, is running to unseat Hunziker, who is seeking his third consecutive term as mayor. Hunziker also served as mayor of St. Paul Park in the 1980s.

During Tuesday's forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Franke repeated his belief that St. Paul Park needs to use its largely-dormant Economic Development Authority to drive efforts to lure development and revitalize the Broadway Avenue commercial district, and indicated he would market the small city more vigorously.

"The more we promote this city -- the more we put ourselves out there -- the more successful we are going to be," he said Tuesday night.

Hunziker defended the city's actions under his leadership, saying the economic downturn had slowed the River's Edge development that proposed to construct more than 2,000 housing units and thousands of square-feet of commercial space.

City officials, Hunziker said, had "heard the same song again and again" from developers since the economy began to sour in 2007: now is not the time.

"Development is market driven," he said during an exchange with Franke on how to market the city to commercial and residential developers. "And if the market is not there we will not have any development."

Hunziker said he advocated waiting out the continued economic slowdown with a "balanced approach" of level spending and "modest" property tax increases to combat the loss of aid dollars from the state. The city's proposed 2012 budget includes a 7.7 percent increase in the property tax levy - a roughly $26 hike in taxes on a home valued at $150,000.

Franke said he would propose holding property taxes level while increasing fundraising efforts to pay for things like police uniforms and equipment.

The 2011 election marks the first contested mayoral race in St. Paul Park since 2003, when Hunziker defeated then-Mayor Don Mullen.

Check for more on the St. Paul Park mayoral race.