Despite the struggles of many individual businesses as the COVID pandemic continues to be a thorn in their sides, the City of North Branch as a whole continues to see record-breaking growth over the past year. That was the message presented to members of the North Branch Chamber of Commerce by City Administrator Renae Fry during a “State of the City” at the monthly Chamber meeting.
“We know that the individual stories of businesses and residents might paint a different picture, maybe even a bleak picture,” Fry said in the introduction to her presentation, “but as a community as a whole, North Branch went beyond explosion in terms of business growth, business development, new housing - it was a record housing year for North Branch.”
Fry said in 2020, the city experienced a record number of 130 new, single-family home permits, and in 2021, they are on pace to break that record, having issued 91 as of the end of last month.
“And we’re still at the peak of new, single-family housing permits, so we do expect to hit that 130 mark, and maybe go a little higher,” she said.
Fry highlighted a couple other housing projects either in progress or expecting to be started soon. Among those was the 144-unit Falcon Apartment complex, which is located on the west end of town, near the Outlet Center. That complex will feature studio up to two-bedroom apartments, a pool, a dog park, and other green space for renters.
“It is the single largest apartment-style housing development in North Branch, ever,” Fry said, adding the project is 100% privately funded. “There is not one dollar of government subsidy in that project.”
Fry mentioned how it being rental units was very important, noting that there is currently “zero vacancy” in North Branch.
She also mentioned the upcoming Heritage Court project, which will be bringing in senior independent living rentals to the area.
A second area of growth is in the business arena. Fry touched on the city’s bringing in broadband internet access to all four corners of the city as helping spur growth. Additionally, the County Road 30 improvements helped present a positive look for the city.
Fry spotlighted several businesses that have invested in the city recently, including Onyx purchasing the former Idea Company building, and Anderson Windows purchasing land for possible future expansion. She even talked briefly about a new business that has been on everyone’s social media lips - the restaurant that will be moving into the former Oak Inn building.
“The long-awaited Muddy Cow... well we hope they will be open this year. They’re slowly working through their permitting process. Last we heard they still needed Department of Health go-ahead.”
She also briefly touched on the city’s absorption of North Branch Water and Light.
“We’re really hoping to maintain or improve customer service, but hopefully see some significant reductions in water rates. Nothings going to happen in this calendar year... but as we go into the budgeting process and realize salary savings starting January 1, we’re really hoping to shore up that asset in our community. I would just say have a little patience, have a little faith. We’re going to keep moving along but I’m absolutely optimistic we are going to see improvement.”
In putting an overall synopsis on the city’s growth, Fry pointed out a county statistic that showed $30 million of new investment in the city.
“There’s not another city in Chisago County that came anywhere close to that,” she said adding this will help balance out or even reduce property taxes. She added the city’s preliminary levy was set at a 2.55% increase, but there might be ways to cut that down even more.
Finally, she touched on community engagement, noting how the city was able to continue on with popular events such as Concerts in the Park, the erecting of the butterfly sculpture at the library, the mural painted by an artist with the help of residents on the side of the Water and Light building, plus the recently held Fall Fest, which drew a record number of people to Central Park.
Fry concluded by saying the city knows this record pace won’t last forever, however the city has set itself up for success no matter what the future brings.
“We know at some point, its going to flatten out. But we’ve got the housing here, we’ve got businesses here, we’ve got workers here. So we’ve got the trifecta of positives, so we’re hoping when the market decides to shift directions, that we will continue to be the destination where want to live, want to work, or frankly want to stay. Because we’ve got some really good things going.”