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2016 in review: What made news in south Washington County

Aldi opened its store on Jamaica Avenue in April 2016. Cottage Grove grocery options will expand next year, when Hy-Vee opens on East Point Douglas Road in the Gateway North complex. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)

An election shake-up

South Washington County saw a number of changes on Election Day.

Longtime Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, did not seek re-election, creating a domino effect in legislative races. Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, won the Senate seat. His Senate run created an open race in House District 54A, which was won by Republican Keith Franke, who will move from the St. Paul Park mayor’s seat to a spot in the Minnesota House beginning Jan. 3.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, announced on the last day of the filing period he would not seek re-election in 2016, and Republican Tony Jurgens of Cottage Grove slid in to run against DFLer Don Slaten of Hastings. Jurgens won, keeping the House District 54B seat in GOP hands in a costly race.

Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey won his third-term election bid, and will be joined by newcomers Wayne Johnson and La Rae Mills on the council in January. Jen Peterson and Justin Olsen both stepped down after eight years each.

Long-serving Mayor Tim Geraghty stepped down from Newport city politics, being replaced by relative newcomer Dan Lund. Bill Sumner retained his council seat, but Tom Ingemann was knocked out by Kevin ChapdeLaine’s return to the council.

Teachers, district settle

South Washington County Schools and its teachers’ union turned to a state mediator to help settle a new two-year contract in July, more than a year into the contract period. Members of the United Teachers of South Washington County union lobbied more publicly than in years past during contract negotiations. Ultimately, teachers earned pay increases in the contract, and the district won some changes in the hiring process.

Ground breaks for Oltman

About 100 officials, educators and lawmakers gathered Oct. 5 to break ground on the new $72 million Oltman Middle School at 65th Street and Geneva Avenue in Cottage Grove. The school will be paid for by part of a $96 million bonding package that was narrowly approved by residents of School District 833 in November 2015. The new school is scheduled open in fall 2018. It will serve children from parts of Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park and Woodbury. The existing Oltman building in St. Paul Park will become home to the district’s Nuevas Fronteras Spanish immersion school.

Open for business

  • Aldi — The grocery chain opened its Cottage Grove location in April, marking the fourth grocery store in the city.
  • Rivertown Cakes — The one-stop sweet treat shop opened on Harkness Avenue in Cottage Grove. Owners Heather and Chris Carey offer single and large orders of cupcakes, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls and more.
  • Friends in Need Food Shelf — The St. Paul Park food shelf moved and  changed its business model, setting up a grocery-store style experience in their new Fourth Street building. They serve 160 families in the area each week.
  • Renewal by Andersen expansion — The company added 125,000 square feet and 200 new jobs, marking the largest of the recent expansions in the Cottage Grove Business Park.
  • Health Connections Chiropractic Center — Laura Draxler and Dustin Oehler opened their chiropractic practice in the Shoppes at Gateway North, offering a wide variety of treatments and therapies.

Closing shop

  • Raceway to Fun — The go-kart, bumper boat, batting cage, arcade, driving range and mini-golf extravaganza shuttered after a reported decline in business since the Highway 61 development, according to Rich and Elaine Oftedahl.
  • BEC — The former city hall-turned business enterprise center will be fully vacated by Dec. 31, though will receive a second (or third) life as the interim headquarters for the Cottage Grove EMS service.
  • Ruby Tuesday — Part of a massive corporate downsizing, Cottage Grove’s Ruby Tuesday restaurant closed.
  • Old Tyme Fudge and Ice Cream — The East Point Douglas Road store shut its doors earlier this month, taking their ice cream, fudge, popcorn, chocolates, pumpkin seeds and honey with them.

On the way

  • Hy-Vee — The sprawling grocery store will be almost 96,000 square feet when completed next year at the site of the former Rainbow Foods. The chain will also take over the former Merchants Bank location for a Hy-Vee gas and convenience store.
  • Central fire station — Cottage Grove will begin construction on the $9 million facility on 80th Street in the spring, complete with an apparatus bay, office and living areas and a training tower.
  • Ace Hardware — The hardware chain, franchised by Steve Burggraf, is expected to open just in time for the new year. Tenants are still being acquired for the other five vacancies in the 80th Street Crossing shopping center.
  • Primrose — After years of looking for a Cottage Grove location, Primrose schools will finally find a place next to the upcoming Junction 70 Grill at 70th Street and Hinton Avenue.
  • Legends of Cottage Grove — Currently under construction, the  184-unit senior living facility is expected to open its doors early in 2018.
  • Norris Square expansion — Presbyterian Homes and Services’ Norris Square is expected to triple in size next year, when two new buildings and a town center connecting the  three is constructed. There will be 64 new independant living units and 72 care center units available.
  • Junction 70 Grill — The new Cottage Grove restaurant and bar could open as early as next spring.

BNSF plan

St. Paul Park and Grey Cloud Island were shaken this fall with news that BNSF Railway plans to build a car storage lot on 300 acres of land at their borders. Residents of both cities — as well as Newport, Cottage Grove and Washington County — have voiced concerns about the 130 extra trucks that would take Third Street and County Road 75 daily, as well as noise, air and water pollution, residential impacts, aesthetics and safety. BNSF plans to begin construction on the 100-acre parking lot as early as next year.

River Oaks

The Cottage Grove City Council took over operations of River Oaks Golf Course in February to prepare it for transfer to the Parks and Recreation Department. With council member Steve Dennis acting as general manager, the restaurant was renovated and renamed Eagles Bar and Grill. Effective Jan. 1, all operations of both the golf course and restaurant will be under the direction of the parks department.

Coming and going

The year saw transitions for leaders in government, business and community associations. Here are some of those changes:

  • Jim Shiely — The longtime St. Paul Park city attorney retired in June after helping the city with a variety of legal matters over 45 years.
  • Majel Carroll — The founder of Stone Soup Thrift Shop in St. Paul Park stepped down as president of Basic Needs Inc., the board that oversees Stone Soup. Vickie Snyder has taken over.
  • Mike Monahan — St. Paul Park’s police chief retired in January after 16 years leading the department. He spent 33 years in St. Paul Park law enforcement.
  • Jessica Billmeyer — A Newport native, Billmeyer was hired as St. Paul Park’s new police chief early in 2016. She previously had worked as a police sergeant in Inver Grove Heights.
  • Nicole Toni — Much of the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce’s visibility, events and activities are the work of its marketing coordinator. Nicole Toni took over that position
  • Ginger Garski — Park High School’s new principal started in July. Garski had worked as an assistant principal at Woodbury High School for 15 years.
  • Christine Costello — Cottage Grove’s new economic development director joined the city in February. She had served in a similar position in Richfield before coming to Cottage Grove.
  • Blitz and Gunnar — Cottage Grove saw a change in perhaps the community’s most popular police officer position: K-9. Police dog Blitz was retired earlier this year after helping to sniff out crime for 10 years. The department has welcomed a new police K-9 Gunnar.

‘Judy from the Bulletin’ dies at 75

A Bulletin reporter, photographer and columnist for over 40 years, Judy Spooner died Nov. 3 at age 75. Spooner started working for the Bulletin in the late 1960s and retired in 2013. She was married to Gary Spooner, a former owner of the Bulletin.

The lighter side

  • Grazing goats — A herd of goats spent two weeks in October eating buckthorn and other invasive weeds at Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park. Rather than use heavy equipment or herbicides to clear the hillside, Washington County Parks and Recreation hired Goat Dispatch, a vegetation management company based in Faribault, Minn., that rents the hooved herbivores to parks, businesses, nonprofits and private residences.
  • Flocking flamingos —  An ever-changing display of pink flamingos strutting their stuff along the east side of Highway 61 between the 80th Street and Summit Avenue drew a flock of fans. The birds, arranged by property owner Gary Johnston, even inspired a Flamingo Facebook page.  
  • Car show moves and grows —  The Culver’s Car Show debuted this summer, and each week the number of vintage cars in the parking lot between Culver’s restaurant and US Bank in Cottage Grove seemed to grow. The Wednesday evening event reunited the disapora of car enthusiasts who were left without a local place to hang out after American Motorsports Bar and Grill closed last year. Tim Conrad of Cottage Grove was one of the driving forces in starting the new event.
  • Holiday Train returns — The frigid weather kept the crowds down, although it’s December in Minnesota, so what did you expect? Nevertheless, the Dec. 9 Canadian Pacific Holiday Train stop proved a crowd pleaser as musicians Kelly Prescott and Colin James entertained bundled attendees with popular holiday tunes in country, rock and bluegrass variations. Cottage Grove Holiday Train Committee co-chair Mary Slusser said this year’s event raised $80,458 for the Friends in Need Food Shelf — an amount on par with last year’s take. In 14 years, the Holiday Train Committee has raised $927,422 and obtained 176,106 pounds of donated food for Friends in Need.