We’re happy for ArtOrg, but disappointed for Northfield.
Last week the arts organization led by Dave Machacek announced it was purchasing a building in Cannon Falls.
According to ArtOrg’s website, the new building has “unique” aspects that perfectly suited ArtOrg’s needs.
“It has a 5000-square-foot wide-open area for studios, ample space for our offices and meeting rooms, three apartments which will eventually serve as artist residencies, and a large outdoor space for public art installations. The site adjoins two restaurants, and the Cannon Valley Bike Trail, as well as more great amenities of the growing and vibrant downtown Cannon Falls. ArtOrg overlooks the Little Cannon River rapids and a city park,” Machacek wrote on the site.
He goes on to point out that the purchase was facilitated two ways: Through the support of ArtOrg “friends” and with the help of a development loan from Cannon Falls’ Economic Development Authority.
While there may not have been 5,000 square feet of wide open space in the Northfield area to accommodate ArtOrg (we really don’t know since there is currently no inventory of available space — a terrific need for the community), we can’t help but wonder if a stronger, more concerted development effort might’ve been able to produce a different outcome.
There are a number of issues that will continue to haunt Northfield in its efforts to support existing business and draw new ones. One has been discussed before and a solution is underway: The city needs an inventory of available space.
Another is the fact that the city suffers from a reputation problem, less so now than in the past when a culture of “no” at City Hall had businesses throwing up their hands in frustration. It takes time to come back from that; we laud current city department heads for working to change that perspective but it still takes time to overcome.
The EDA has suffered in recent years from a lack of board members — courtesy of council in-fighting over candidates nominated by the mayor — and from a general lack of vision, mission and most importantly, support.
At one point, there was considerable debate around dissolving the EDA in favor of the council taking over that role. Thankfully, that idea was abandoned, but the EDA still has some recovering to do, which makes promoting Northfield an uphill climb.
Finally, even the council has begun to recognize the issues surrounding the city’s burdensome Land Development Code. Its 500 pages are like a giant, neon sign that says “WE OVERREGULATE.” It needs fresh eyes with a bit more of a business-friendly perspective thrown in for good measure.
We’re grateful that Machacek and the other folks involved in ArtOrg consider their organization a regional one that will continue to exhibit and be involved in the Northfield area.
But any time an arts organization leaves a town that considers itself artist-friendly, some reflection on what happened is needed.