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Fighting the blight in small towns

By Staff | Oct 16, 2011

Small towns in rural Minnesota have many things in common.

Declining population, older homes, abandoned buildings – to name a few.

Fighting to keep a small town ‘looking good’ can be a constant battle.

The towns and cities in Faribault County are no different. There are more than a fair share of older homes and buildings in tough shape.

The issue is, what can be done about it?

In some cases, the answer is not too much. A building may be empty and look pretty tough, but until it becomes a health and safety nuisance, there isn’t a lot a city can do about it.

Just because a building lacks paint, has junk in the window (or some type of paper covering that is falling down), doesn’t mean the city can come in and order it to be made to “look nice.”

That is unfortunate, but true.

Unless it violates an ordinance (such as the weeds overgrowing the property or the snow doesn’t get shoveled), there just isn’t a lot that can be done.

We salute two cities in the county that are promoting extra efforts to get rid of these potential eyesores.

In Wells, City Administrator Jeremy Germann has put together a plan that involves the city and the city’s HRA each putting in $100,000 over 10 years to form a pot of money that can be used to buy up and remove old structures.

We like Germann’s choice for a name for the effort – the Phoenix Project.

He refers to the mythical phoenix firebird that lives for a thousand years, then burns up, only to be reborn among the ashes.

In Blue Earth, the city is using some “found” HRA funds to promote a project to help local homeowners fix up their properties.

One part of the money is set aside to buy up old homes and tear them down.

Wells, Winnebago and Blue Earth have all been working over the past year or so to clean up old trailer home parks that had become eyesores.

Winnebago is going so far as to make theirs into a campground.

(That would make sense in Blue Earth as well, since the old trailer park property is along the river and is a very scenic area.)

While we applaud the recent efforts being made in Faribault County, we question whether it is enough.

Take a drive, walk or bike ride around any town in Faribault County and it is easy to see that there is a large problem with blight. Just like there is in any small Minnesota town.

Take a close, hard – and critical – look at your town. Try looking at it as a visitor would.

Does your town look ‘attractive?’ Is it a place that someone would come visit and immediately say, “I would want to live here?”

Those are hard questions. Sometimes they have hard answers.

Just this last summer someone moving to the area told me they looked at a home for sale in one of Faribault County’s smaller towns. Taking a look around, they determined quickly they did not want to live there.

Each town has its own problems, but they are similar. Older homes in need of repair – or demolition. Abandoned buildings that need to go away as well.

The problem is, what can we do about it.

In Blue Earth, for example, there are many empty commercial buildings that are becoming eyesores. Some are downtown. Some are along Highway 169.

One of them, unfortunately, is directly in front of Giant Park and the Green Giant statue – where we invite thousands of visitors to stop in and visit us each year. Those of us who live here tend to ignore it. After a while we don’t even see it. Try pretending to be a visitor to the statue and all of a sudden the abandoned building pops out at you as the eyesore that it is. That building needs to be rehabbed or else it needs to go away.

Downtown there are several buildings that are advancing from the eyesore stage into the deterioration stage. One, the Avalon building, seems to be shedding its roof in pieces onto the street and alleys around it.

Maybe that is a good thing. Once the building advances to the public hazard stage, the city can actually do something about it.

What can you and I do about all this blight problem?

For one thing, don’t ignore it. Keep pointing it out, keep trying to get the owners to do something about it. Keep putting pressure on your city councilmen to try and do something about it. And tell them you support them on the efforts and programs they have started to clean up your city.

Then continue to fight the blight yourself as much as you can in your own neighborhood.