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Volunteers transform Montrose with grant
September 17, 2009

Tuesday, Sept. 22 will be time for recognition and review

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

MONTROSE, MN – With eager volunteers, careful planning, and a $15,000 grant, a city can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.

Montrose, which was awarded an Initiative Foundation grant in early 2008, is proof.

“There is a turning of the tides in Montrose,” commented Mary McCarty, co-chair of the Highway 12 redevelopment task force. “Volunteerism is up, and people are so much more optimistic that we can make Montrose a place we can all be proud to call home.”

To honor the workers who gave their time to make Montrose a better place to live, work, and play, the public is invited to a volunteer recognition and grant update session Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Montrose Community Center.

Apple pie and other refreshments will be served.

The meeting will be an opportunity to learn what the work committees have accomplished with the help of the Initiative Foundation’s Healthy Communities Partnership grant.

“All the committees accomplished their goals and beyond,” said Joanne Foust, economic development consultant for Montrose. “The city was very fortunate to have a large group of volunteers.”

A core group of 12 people attended training in Little Falls, and about 80 people attended a community dinner meeting to develop goals for how the grant money should be used.

“We took those results and came up with three task forces,” Swanson said.

One team focused on increasing community pride, while another worked to bring more businesses to Montrose. The third made improvement plans for the Highway 12 corridor through the city.

Now, about a year later, the volunteers have much to show for their efforts.

“In that short amount of time, we’ve had big accomplishments,” Montrose City Administrator Barb Swanson said.

The community development group, for example, created several holiday events such as breakfast with Santa, a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and a Christmas decorating contest including local homes and businesses. The group also coordinated a citywide garage sale and sponsored a “movies in the park” event during Montrose Days.

“They worked really hard this year,” Swanson said. “They’ve got ‘irons in the fire’ all the time.”

A $5,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation was given to the community group for landscaping the area around the Montrose city entrance signs. The sign on the west entrance is completed, and the team will be landscaping the east entrance Saturday, Sept. 19.

At the meeting Tuesday, Sept. 22, people from the community will have the opportunity to join the community task force.

“We hope to find new members,” Swanson said. “They have a lot of fun on that committee. It takes a lot of energy.”

The business recruitment task force has also been busy this past year. One accomplishment was working with a company in Wayzata to create a three-minute video promoting local businesses, which will premier at the meeting. The video will also be posted on the city web site and is available on DVD.

The group also conducted a business retention survey, cleaned the old lumberyard site on Highway 12, and is updating the city web site. In addition, the committee is hoping to add five new businesses on the east end of town, Swanson said.

“It’s been hard work, but it’s been fun,” she said.

The committee is also working to transform a vacant building near the Montrose Elementary School into an early childhood family education center, with room for 87 children. The building had been used for an electronics business, but has been empty for about two years, Swanson said.

Plans are to utilize the space for early childhood education, a private daycare, and the Head Start program.

“We expect to be breaking ground soon,” Swanson said.

The third task force, which focused on improving the Highway 12 corridor, worked with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota to create a design standards manual. The manual proposes standards for remodeling or building, Foust said.

“They want to invigorate our commercial district,” Swanson said.

Copies of the plan are available at www.montrose-mn.com.

A fourth task force, working with Little Crow Transit Way, may be implemented after the Sept. 22 meeting.

The Little Crow Transit Way project involves constructing a passenger rail service from Willmar to Wayzata.

“We would love to see that happen,” Swanson said, “and we’d love to be a stop on that transit.”

Although the $15,000 grant from the Initiative Foundation was a one-time award, Montrose is eligible for matching grants of up to $10,000 per year, Foust said. This past year, the Montrose Economic Development Authority contributed about $10,000 to the projects, but it was not required, Foust said.

“I believe that the initial grant from the Initiative Foundation was a huge step forward in shifting people’s perceptions about what Montrose can become and, more importantly, empowering them to help move our community forward in a positive direction,” McCarty said.


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