Cokato EDA seeks input for ways to accentuate the positives and work on the negatives from First Impressions report
By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN - Upon first meeting, a person develops a first impression, and, as the saying goes, that impression can last a lifetime.
During last Monday’s town hall meeting, the Cokato Economic Development Authority (EDA) asked for feedback from those with a vested interest in the City of Cokato on ways to improve its lasting impression, therefore making it an even better place to live and visit.
Wayne Murphy, EDA member, said that he understands that some of the issues highlighted in the First Impressions report have gone unresolved for a long time.
“The great thing is we are talking about them,” he said.
The objective of the meeting was to identify goals and come up with strategies and tactics in order to create an action plan, according to Murphy.
The meeting was moderated by Joanne Foust, principal for Municipal Development Group Inc., which provides city planning, economic development, and grant writing consulting services.
Foust told the audience of about 30 that she has always held Cokato near and dear to her heart, having worked for the City of Cokato in 1990, and now periodically working with the EDA.
Leading up to the town hall meeting was a study done in the fall of 2008 between the City of Cokato’s EDA and the City of Arlington’s EDA.
Five volunteers (ages 30 to 74) visited Cokato from Arlington to see what impressed them most about Cokato and what it could stand to work on.
The volunteers spent seven hours in the community and made comments on various aspects including education, medical facilities, parks and recreation, culture and heritage, downtown infrastructure, retail offerings, and more.
Positive first impressions
First, Foust highlighted what the visitors were most impressed by such as both the Dassel and Cokato communities having their own elementary schools.
Also, residential areas were well taken care of; both yards and gardens.
The bike trail was noted as a nice start to a trail system that could expand to connect parks. Good playground equipment for children was another good feature.
The visitors liked the fact that there were local resources centrally located and a nice museum to capture the town’s history.
The visitors were also impressed with the medical facilities, giving residents options. It was also noted the individual practices, such as the dentist, chiropractors, and eye clinic, were a positive aspect.
Other aspects that impressed the visitors were public infrastructure and the “pocket park” in the middle of downtown, well-maintained streets, city hall in the center of town, off-street parking, two banks, and a good, quality retail base, and a “first class” industrial park.
Areas to focus on
Along with the positive aspects of the Cokato community, the Arlington visitors also saw some room for improvement.
Seeing plywood in windows of vacant buildings downtown wasn’t found to be inviting for new business opportunities.
They recommended some business opportunities to recruit including overnight lodging, extended business hours, legal and investment firms, real estate, accounting, and an appliance store.
They saw a lot of potential with the Highway 12 and County Road 3 corridor, suggesting it be a point of interest for the town. Some suggestions were a chamber of commerce building or a tourism office.
Other suggestions by the visitors were increasing the number of tenants in the industrial park, additional dining options, new housing opportunities, and adding “spark” to the downtown area to attract more businesses.
When the team was asked what they would remember most about Cokato six months from now, it was the struggling downtown and how wrong it was to chase the perceived value of the highway.
Getting hometown feedback
At the meeting, the community members broke up into groups to come up with suggestions and areas to work on.
The ideas from each group were then written down by Foust, and members of each table could choose two or three ideas they found to be the most beneficial and feasible to work on.
Of those, the top five ideas were, focusing on the intersection of Highway 12 and County Road 3 and utilizing that corner, establishing Cokato’s identity, the library expansion, utilizing Peterson Park, and creating more jobs in the industrial park.
Each table was given one of the five suggestions or goals for making them happen, a spokes from each table was designated to share their ideas.
Wayne Murphy’s table was given the goal of establishing Cokato’s identity. That table suggested ways of doing this could be to develop a slogan for the town and a logo to represent the community. Making Cokato T-shirts was another suggestion.
Chuck Miller represented the table discussing the library expansion. With a committee already formed to work on the library expansion, the table didn’t find much else to be done for this goal.
Miller did add that he wants the lasting impression of Cokato to be one where people will want to come back and live.
Steve Dietman spoke of ways to utilize Peterson Park and create weekend events in town so people don’t go somewhere else for family fun and entertainment.
Some suggestions were music in the park, similar to Dassel’s Mushroom Building concert events.
On behalf of the industrial park expansion, Dori Kimball suggested the EDA choose a representative to “sell” Cokato as a viable town for industry.
It was also suggested the city create an incentive package to entice potential industry.
Kimball’s lasting impression of Cokato was one where a person can work and live in without traveling 20 or 30 miles for a job.
The EDA will be reviewing the input received at the town hall meeting at its regular monthly meeting Monday, July 6 at 4 p.m.
Also at that time it will be assigning EDA members to action committees.
Those interested in working on a committee should come to the meeting or contact Peggy Carlson at the Cokato City Hall, (320) 286-5505.