The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 9, 2010

HUD gives St. Peter high marks

By Brian Ojanpa
The Free Press

ST PETER — St. Peter is a rural American city that works, said a visiting federal official Friday who came away impressed.

“St. Peter is a community of sustainability and livability on all fronts. These people are doing a pretty remarkable job,” said Ron Sims, deputy secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sims’ Minnesota visit included a morning tour of the city at the behest of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer of Mankato.

“HUD is looking at how communities make themselves sustainable and livable, and St. Peter is a good example of housing, agricultural and rural development synergies,” Landkamer said.

The tour, which included city and state officials, made stops at the wastewater treatment plant, St. Peter Food Co-op and the Washington Terrace and Nicollet Meadows neighborhood housing developments.

The wastewater plant was on the tour to show off its dual capacities for reducing pollution in the Minnesota River while enhancing the city’s water quality.

The stop at St. Peter Food Co-op showed why it’s regarded as a model for rural food cooperatives.

“It’s very unusual for us to stay successful as others have folded in rural towns. But that’s a reflection of who we are,” manager Margo O’Brien said of the 1,200-member co-op formed in 1979.

O’Brien told the group that co-ops are “in the blood of Minnesota” due to the ongoing influences of its immigrant past.

“People have very deep roots in the Midwest,” she said, adding it’s not uncommon to see four generations of families patronizing the store.

The tour’s stops at the housing developments displayed St. Peter’s ongoing quest to provide affordable housing.

At the 9-year-old Nicollet Meadows subdivision on land purchased from the St. Peter School District, Community Development Director Russ Wille provided an overview of the single-family homes and townhouses designed for families that otherwise couldn’t afford them.

“I’ve had people crying because they’d never considered themselves a homeowner,” Wille told the visitors.

Sims said that while the Twin Cities is a model for cutting-edge sustainability and livability among urban areas, St. Peter is its rural kindred spirit.

“Colleen said, ‘You’ve got to come out and see all the things that are happening in rural America,’ ” Sims said.

“We need to preserve the vitality and viability of our rural communities, and St. Peter is a community that’s done it right.”