Luverne prepares for the future
By Heather Thorstensen
Date Modified: 04/22/2012 1:54 PM
LUVERNE, Minn.— People in Luverne are hoping to make their community more vibrant by supporting new businesses, attracting more visitors and retaining more residents.
"Our ultimate goal is that Luverne become a destination spot with enough shopping, enough recreational activities that people say 'hey, we're going to Luverne," said Bill Weber, a local business owner, former city mayor and chairman of the executive committee leading the revitilization project, Luverne 2021.
It officially kicked off last year.Primary efforts so far have been on improving the area around the U.S. Highway 75 entrance into the city, adding a camp ground and coming up with a city brand.
A variety of committees are involved in Luverne 2021. A design committee, for instance, has a to-do list that includes working on restored historic buildings and downtown parking. A special projects committee will look, among other things, into outdoor recreation.
One committeewill focus on finance and business development, such as grants. Another looks at marketing and business operations, including internal networking and customer skills training.
"Our goal is to develop a sound community plan that provides good assistance in terms of planning for prospective business owners," Weber said.
The time line for these projects are scheduled from as short as one to three years to as long as more than eight years.
Bringing in new businesses brings jobs, which attract new residents. That could bring more students, and funding, to local schools.
"That's where a lot of our problems will be solved, and that is by growing our communities and getting business to come here," said Weber.
Project organizers are working cooperatively with the city government, such as supporting efforts to set up a historical district downtown.City employees serve as ex-officio members on the Luverne 2021 committee.
"To pull a project like this off, you have to have the support of your local government," said Weber.
Discussions of how to revitalize Luverne's business community began in 2008. Warren G. Herreid II, a benefactor to Luverne, had an idea that the city could become a place for outlet shopping.
"I felt probably the only way to compete would be something that would compliment Sioux Falls," said Herreid, who was born in Luverne and has family ties there. Sioux Falls, S.D., is approximately 30 miles away.
Because of Luverne's close proximity to Sioux Falls, Weber heard from a developer that the community shouldn't plan for a customer base of a few thousand, but rather hundreds of thousands.
"People don't think of traveling 30, 40, 50 miles to go out anymore, but you better have something for them to come to," he said.
People in the community needed direction. Through support of the Rock County Development Corporation, the K.A.H.R. Foundation— started by Herreid and his wife, Jeannine M. Rivet — and the Southwest Initiative Foundation, a consultant from the professional planning firm LHB of Minneapolis was hired.
The consultant ran a series of public meetings — the first one was attended by more than 100 people, Weber said — to analyze the community's strengths and weaknesses and develop a plan. While the plan didn't end up focusing on outlet shopping, it did set the direction for Luverne 2021 to strengthen its business sector and improve the city.
Weber said now is the time to tackle these projects while workers are coming in to the area to build a new feed mill outside of the city, to work at the GEVO plant that produces isobutanol and to build a wind farm in the county.
They could help support fledgling businesses as they get off the ground, he said.
"Here we have an increase in our customer base that's coming into the community. Let's not wait until everyone's here. Let's get started, take advantage of all these additional, potential customers," he said.
To make downtown more attractive, Herreid and others are trying to buy some real estate to restore buildings to the way they looked in the 1930s and 1940s.
"Myself, along with other people from the Luverne area, have already said we would put money in it if we could get the right buildings," he said.
Once Luverne 2021 organizers get experience and flush out their own plans, Weber expects they will be willing to assist nearby communities to do similar projects.
"We don't have time for turf wars," he said.