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Public can offer input on Newport transit station

Washington County officials are continuing to sketch out their role in how to redevelop an industrial section of Newport after a transit center opens along a busy express bus route next year.

County transit planners will hold an open house at Newport City Hall to seek public input on design of the transit station that is scheduled to begin service to commuters headed to St. Paul next fall. The public open house is scheduled to run from 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, at 596 Seventh Ave. in Newport.

County officials must decide how deeply involved to be in what, exactly, develops around the new transit center -- specifically what is developed on the six or seven acres of county-owned land that are left after the transit center and adjacent parking is constructed along Maxwell Avenue near the U.S. Highway 61 and Interstate 494 interchange.

"Do we just want to sell (the remaining land) outright and see what comes in?" Public Works Director Don Theisen said to county commissioners at a workshop last week. "How much control do we want to have over that? What kind of partnership do we have with the city and HRA in how we develop that land?"

The Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority and city officials last month agreed to let the county take the lead in what county officials have called a "redevelopment partnership" in which the HRA will seek grants, set up a tax-increment financing district and court developers to help transform a bleak, industrial section of the city into what they hope will vibrant, mixed-use transit-oriented neighborhood.

City leaders say they believe the project, known as the Red Rock Gateway Redevelopment, could boost Newport's tax rolls by hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue to each year and help rehabilitate the image of a city often overlooked by developers in the east metro.

Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel, of Stillwater, said it is critical that county planners work closely with the city to develop the area along what Newport officials have envisioned.

"It's going to be really important to get the public engaged and interested in that site," Kriesel said. "We don't just want a bus bench in that area ... we want something that's really going to spur economic development."