Learning from St. Cloud’s mistakes

Last month the St. Cloud Times ran a series about growth in the St. Cloud area, how it’s been affected by the bursting of the housing bubble and where they should head next. Although St. Cloud has a different infrastructure than Baldwin, it’s dealing with eerily similar problems — divisions that have roads built but are missing houses or are filled with empty ones and big questions about how to pay for road and other assessments.

The first two parts of the story illustrate the problem:

Part 1: So many lots, so few houses

Part 2: In stalled developments, disappointed homeowners wait for expected amenities

The next two parts take a look at Avon and a development, called Avon Estates, that dreamed big, but failed. What the division was trying to accomplish is familiar — rural living with proximity to a large city. That very attitude brought many people to Baldwin during the housing boom. Now, with few houses and a defunct developer, Avon is in trouble.

Part 3: When development stalls, cities are left paying the bills

Part 4: In Avon, debt replaces high hopes

The conclusions offered in the final story of the series are intriguing. It seems the city is still selling itself, trying as hard as it can to attract growth to finish and fill empty divisions while they refine how they work with developers to guard against the kind of debt problems that were created by past development deals.

Part 5: Optimism remains, but cities, builders are proceeding with caution

What the series really makes me wonder is whether it is possible to have something like Avon Estates ever work. There is no shortage of people who want the amenities offered by a city but enjoy the open space and freedom of the country, but is it, ultimately, possible?

And can it work as close to the city as Avon? Or does Avon’s failure highlight Baldwin’s strength of being truly rural?

Additionally, looking at the immediate financial issues present in St. Cloud made me realize Baldwin has another huge asset: time to figure it all out. It’s as if the recession hit a huge pause button on Baldwin’s growth, allowing the township to take stock, really think about what it wants to be, and proceed in building and marketing itself in that image.

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