Cottage Grove, Minnesota
Where pride and prosperity meet
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Cottage Grove, Minnesota for our focus on Sustainability and Economic Development in U.S. Cities.
Cottage Grove, Minnesota is a progressive, vibrant community in the Southeast Twin Cities metropolitan area – ten miles south of St. Paul on the scenic north bank of the Mississippi River in Washington County. Residents and businesses enjoy convenient access to urban opportunities, while recreational amenities, open spaces, high-quality schools, and close-knit community add a sense of pride and prosperity to the Cottage Grove charm.
Getting there is a breeze. The city’s Gateway Commercial District is four miles south of Interstate 494 on Highway 61, and nine miles south of Interstate 94. The business park is just six miles south of Interstate 494, and 11 miles south of Interstate 94. Rail-served sites in the business park (CP line, with BNSF intersection nearby) provide easy access to global markets, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is only a 20-minute drive away.
According to Cottage Grove Mayor, Myron Bailey, “Economic development in the city has been fantastic over the last couple years. We are one of the top 10 cities for the highest amount of housing development in the State of Minnesota in 2019. We’ve definitely made some big strides. On top of that, there is a lot of growth happening with our business park and commercial (restaurants, retailers, etc.). We’re also working on the HERO Center, a state-of-the-art training facility for emergency responders.”
The city has seen rapid population growth from 1970 (13,419) to its current number around 38,000, and projected growth totals from the regional planning body of Minnesota (Metropolitan Council) forecast a population for Cottage Grove of 42,200 by 2030 and 47,000 by 2040. City Administrator Jennifer Levitt reports, “Our City Council is very pro-growth and that has really incentivized developers to look at Cottage Grove. They’ve noticed that we’re making the necessary infrastructure improvements to facilitate development. So, we’re seeing many different housing styles come to the market, providing a lot of variation for residents. And the Ravine Parkway is the key that provided that opportunity for this new residential boom.”
The Ravine Parkway Project is a backbone to the city’s East Ravine area. Planning started back in 2003 with the East Ravine Master Plan and different portions of the roadway have been built since that time. Overall, it is over seven miles long, with a mile-and-a-half stretch that will serve over 500 acres of new housing in the city – single family and medium-density residential. The Mayor notes, “Now that the roadway is finally open and people are driving on it, they’re seeing the vistas, the pedestrian bridges, the walkways, and the architectural features we’ve done. We have limestone monuments, our own logo that is very specific to the Parkway, and we planted 436 trees and 800 perennials and shrubs. Just in this one area, it’s absolutely amazing. Now, developers are clamoring for property around there; coming forward with proposals for properties that abut this new roadway.”
Running through part of the property is Military Road; in the olden days, an active road for settlers and the military moving through Cottage Grove to either Fort Snelling or the capital in St. Paul. It is a Washington County road and the city opted to work with them to create the Ravine Parkway while keeping the historical nature of Military Road. It has now been transformed into a trail system with educational and historical signage throughout, so people who are walking or biking will learn the history and be part of what used to be a significant access point in the early settler days. Since the Parkway project began in 2003, there have been little tweaks with building design standards, but the core idea – the look of it, the feel of it, the trail access, the historical nature – has resonated from council to council and staff to staff over the years. “Now we’re celebrating another leg of holding out for what was best for our community and what will be really cool for the future of Cottage Grove,” says Bailey.
Manufacturing is a major industry in the city. The recent significant expansion by Renewal by Andersen (Windows) will make it the city’s largest employer. “We’re also interested in the technology market,” says Levitt. “We have some large, shovel-ready tracts of land, which is unique in the Metro, so we’re really poised for development as a technology center. We have a great partnership with Xcel Energy, one of our suppliers of energy to the site; also with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), and our Community Development Authority at Washington County. We have such attractive land for development, but for that to work successfully, it’s going to take partnerships at all levels.”
Cottage Grove has commercial nodes, but no traditional downtown core, so they’re literally going to build one. Plans are currently in the works for the Shoppes at Cottage View development project at the southern leg of the final part of the Ravine Parkway. The area has been designed as multi-use – incorporating residential, commercial, business, and public space. The Mayor acknowledges, “The Shoppes at Cottage View would be this ‘downtown feel’ that Cottage Grove does not have. We’re already marketing that area on behalf of the landowner, and have received high marks from developers who expressed interest in coming to the city to be part of that. The City is also exploring the potential of building a Community Center in the “Shoppes” area, which is generating a lot of buzz as well. We are proactive and aggressive in a big way. We’re not giving away the farm but we look for solutions – we don’t put up roadblocks. Developers know we will work with them.”
Another accolade in the city’s achievements is the HERO Center, being built on the Ravine Parkway, directly north of the City Hall Public Safety Building on city property. The City of Cottage Grove and its neighboring City of Woodbury combined finances, along with funding from the State of Minnesota, to put the project together. Pete Koerner, Cottage Grove Director of Public Safety, explains, “The HERO acronym stands for Health and Emergency Responder Occupations. This is a regional facility and will be a state-of-the-art, immersive training center for police, fire, and emergency medical services. It was designed to fill a void in the East Metro – there is already a training facility to the north and on the other side of the Metro, so we wanted to concentrate on our area. But it will bring people in from across the region and other states and nationally.”
Though the City of Cottage Grove is running the Center in partnership with neighboring Woodbury, it will have a separate staff to manage the scheduling of training cycles and administration, etc. The facility is 47,000 square feet on a nine-acre site, with two outbuildings and the grounds to be used for training, whether it is canines or fire training, so the campus will use up the entire acreage. The Center will also have training for dealing with active shooters, and a 36’ by 36’ virtual simulation room, with three screens that will make officers feel as if they’re in a situation, to see how they will handle it. When it comes to de-escalation, this simulation format is not available anywhere else in the state of Minnesota. “We’re excited to have it,” says Koerner, “because we believe all officers really need this kind of training to help with the situations that, unfortunately, are happening around the country.” The HERO Center is scheduled to open on Jan. 1, 2020.
With sustainability a long-time focus, Cottage Grove has been part of the Green Steps Cities state initiative and many other environmental programs. City Engineer Ryan Burfeind tells of one intriguing project: “We have a Sustainable Communities Partnership with the University of St. Thomas, here in the twin cities. We give students real world projects they can work on and it’s a benefit to both parties; the city gets some really great projects done that we can then use, and it provides an opportunity for these students. One class worked with our Parks Department, creating interactive maps to get people out using our recreational parks and trails and such. We also had an economics class that looked at a smart controller program for irrigation systems – checked all the data and did the number crunching to see how successful that program was. We also worked with a psychology class on a very interesting project where they did a community survey to see ways that we are being sustainable with residents at their homes, as far as irrigation systems and different practices, and what the barriers are. They created a report we can use to continue building our sustainability program.”
Speaking to other “green” works, the Mayor adds, “We’ve had opportunities with the South Washington Watershed District where they needed to create storm water retention or drainage. We’ve been able to partner with them to create trail ways and pedestrian underpasses that are large enough they could be used, if needed, for a major rain event, but most of the time they are great walking trails and access points. The Watershed District has been amazing with all this, plus the Ravine Parkway project, and a great financial partner, as well.”
Among its many attributes, Cottage Grove is proactive, caring, and poised for growth – ideal for raising a family, thanks to a strong school district, employment, recreation, and great housing options. From a public safety standpoint, Cottage Grove is very safe and enjoys excellent community support, with one of the best EMS response times in the Metro. The city has a plethora of parks connected by trails; next on the agenda is the beautiful riverfront area with its unique access to the Mississippi River. Cottage Grove is one blessed and smart community – planning growth with sustainability always in mind.
AT A GLANCE
Who: Cottage Grove, Minnesota
What: Thriving suburb of St. Paul; population approx. 38,000
Where: Washington County, Minnesota