After a COVID-19 induced delay in the mayor’s annual State of the City speech, Rhonda Pownell delivered a hopeful online address Friday night.

Despite Pownell’s optimism, it was impossible not to notice the lingering impact of COVID-19. In spite of the unprecedented economic challenges posed by the pandemic, Pownell said the city will overcome the turmoil and still be in a good position to tackle other pressing city matters such as better funding and strategically investing in parks, decreasing its carbon footprint and being an open, welcoming community.

Pownell’s speech centered on the progress the city has made in meeting its objectives established as strategic initiatives.

She described the work of the Economic Development Authority, which has been one of the busiest city boards within the last 12 months. The EDA allocated grants for three businesses: $50,000 for Secure Base Consulting, $100,000 for Reunion restaurant and $250,000 for Fifth Street Lofts. The board also approved a $5,000 microgrant for Little Joy Coffee, which opened in September. Aurora Pharmaceuticals is embarking on a 20,000-square-foot expansion.

The EDA also developed a three-year facade improvement program to encourage downtown building owners to extend the life of their structures.

The city worked with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority on the second phase of Spring Creek Townhomes, which, when complete, will add 32 units to a city with a serious lack of affordable housing. Construction on the site, southeast of the first phase of the townhomes, is slated to begin this fall.

The last 12 months has also been a major stretch for work on the city’s infrastructure. An especially harsh 2018-19 winter led to city crews laying more than 100 tons of concrete needing to be laid last summer.

The council last year approved installing a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 246 and Jefferson Parkway near three of the city’s public schools. Pownell spoke highly of the project on Friday, predicting it would improve pedestrian and motorist safety.

The city committed to having 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030 and being a 100% carbon-free community by 2040.

Pownell said the Public Works Department is working through a time of more regular and intense storms and has raised electrical transformers along the Riverwalk to accommodate the change.

“It is truly amazing what our street and parks crews achieve with these events,” Pownell said.

The Police Department is increasing outreach to recruit staff across cultural boundaries. In 2019, the department recruited and hired a former Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes (TORCH) student. Pownell noted DARE training continues in schools. She said the Police Department has an active, well-received force within Northfield and is embracing community-oriented policing while addressing drug and mental health concerns.

Other Northfield officials presented awards to volunteers during the ceremony.

Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy dedicated a poem to the class of 2020. Third- and fourth-graders who won the Mayor’s Essay Contest were honored and shown explaining their views on the ideal use of Northfield park space.

Northfield Superintendent Matt Hillmann presented the Youth Ethical Leadership Award, given annually to a Northfield High School junior or senior, to Jose Gonzalez Ramirez. Environmental Quality Commission member Bruce Anderson presented the Board and Commission Excellence Winner to EQC members Al Anderson and Alex Miller for their work in helping the community fight climate change. Public Works operator Steve Petricka was presented the city’s Outstanding Employee Award.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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