Arguably one of the longest serving mayors in the Twin Cities metropolitan area is Burnsville’s Elizabeth Kautz. As the New Year began, she sat down for an interview about the challenges the city faces and how it has changed over her tenure.
But of course, the first question is: Will she seek a sixth four-year term in 2012?
The answer is: “Yes.”
“Because we are at a critical point; we have built partnerships and there is a lot to be done,” she said.
This south-of-the-river community sprouted into existence in the late 1960s and ‘70s with strip malls, single family homes on cul-de-sacs and sprawling apartment complexes.
But when Kautz was first elected mayor in 1994, Burnsville was like a living room with an avocado green sofa and shag carpeting – it wasn’t keeping up with the times or the changing needs of its residents. There was no focus for the future, she said.
With time marching on, the city stood a good chance of being left behind if it didn’t start re-visioning its future. That’s what motivated Kautz (then city council member) to run for mayor. Now, 18 years later, she is still nudging, and at times pushing, the city into change that she thinks will keep it vibrant and attractive to new families and businesses, and remain competitive.
She likes to use the word “visioning” – it calls for partnerships, ideas and a laser focus to stay on track.
After first being elected, she called for a visioning process involving residents and others that led to the Heart of the City development and the Performing Arts Center.
Aware of the lingering controversy over the public funds used primarily to build the PAC, she said people forget that it was a blighted area, but now it is home to businesses and several housing options. She’s comfortable with the decisions made to transform the area.
“All that we have accomplished here in Burnsville, is a team effort,” she said. “ … The Heart of the City and the Performing Arts Center were possible because of a majority vote and the many citizens who were part of the process.”
She won’t tip her hand on what initiatives will be high on the city’s agenda in 2012 – those will be sorted through during a Jan. 27 all-day city council work session,and laid out in her February state-of-the-state address. However, here’s a look at some areas that we could be hearing more about in 2012:
Considered a fully developed city, Burnsville continually faces the challenge of redevelopment. Among suburbs, “We are old … and everyone is always wanting to go to new,” she said. The city’s bones – streets, water and sewer – need constant tending, if the community is to remain viable to new residents and businesses.
Kautz said that decisions made in 2012 could make or break its future. For instance, she has her eyes set on the last large re-developable tract of land in Burnsville known as the Minnesota River Quadrant. Home to a quarry, landfill and some related businesses, its location next to the Minnesota River and I-35E make it attractive for redevelopment – but it will cost money. It’s a project that will be a long time in coming, but long-term planning and partnerships (especially financial) are keys to its success, she said.
“The City can only create good land use decisions for the property owners and potential buyers to redevelop the River Quadrant,” she said. The land is all privately owned. “We create the environment for them to want to come and locate there.”
The redesign and construction of Hwy. 13 and CR 5, beginning this summer, will be the first major step.
As Burnsville ages, so are its residents and Kautz said the challenge is to provide housing options for all age groups. “We need viable choices for empty nesters,” so when ready, they can move out and cycle the home to a new generation and still stay in Burnsville, she said. Kautz moved from a single family home to a condo. “Our home was purchased by a young family with two children and one on the way,” she said.
Aging apartment complexes and inattentive owners have recently forced the city to develop policies and ordinances to address maintenance problems. Kautz said that the Country Village apartment situation forced the city council into strict punitive action, but most complexes in the city have upgraded their facilities. In coming years, this will take vigilance from the city.
You can find Kautz at most public events with an eager smile and an outreached hand – she is all about schmoozing for Burnsville. “People ask me what (political) party I belong to? I answer, ‘Burnsville.’ That’s who elects me to office,” she said. Partnerships are important especially in an era of diminishing resources. She’ll lobby at the state capitol for business incentives directed toward Burnsville development or seek ways to bring in grant funding for projects or facilities such as The Garage. “You have to build a network of critical decision makers, then you have access …. Now they take my phone calls,” she said.
Burnsville is home to several manufacturing facilities and has a relatively low unemployment rate at a little more than 5 percent. For Burnsville to continue to attract business, Kautz said government needs to create an environment where people can prosper, and then get out of the way. “The private sector will take over,” she said.