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Wendy Reuer, Published February 21 2012

Moorhead council aims to attract more residents to city

MOORHEAD – We’re better than them.

It’s a message some City Council members here want potential residents to hear loud and clear when choosing which side of the river to live on.

“We’re a better town. I believe that. I’m not going to back down from Fargo. We’re the best town in the metro,” Councilman Mark Altenburg said Tuesday. “We’ve got better schools, we’ve got better community, and we’re 20 years ahead in terms of flood protection.”

Moorhead is not currently leading the way in population or business growth compared to Fargo and West Fargo, according to a 2011 housing analysis by Maxfield Research. But, members of the City Council have made changing that a priority.

On Tuesday, Maxfield President Mary Bujold said the city is poised to make a competitive comeback.

The $25,000 study found that the perception of the city and especially that of the state has become a hindrance. Last year, Minnesota struggled with a $5 billion deficit and a five- week government shutdown when lawmakers failed to agree on a budget.

Bujold said people worry the state’s budget’s deficits would eventually have a negative impact on local school funding and taxes.

“As a border community, we are being compared all the time, and this is something that negatively impacts us here,” Councilwoman Nancy Otto said.

The study found that residential construction hit an 11-year low in 2011, with 155 units built. Moorhead’s median home price decreased slightly in 2011 to $139,000 while the median home price in Fargo rose to $152,000.

When looking at rental properties, the study found that despite the high number of students, rental properties had less occupancy rates than those in Fargo.

Bujold said young renters want to be near entertainment and their campuses, things for the city to consider when seeking developers of rental properties.

“The rents are very, very competitive,” Bujold said.

When it came to amenities, residents polled reported they would like to see more sit-down restaurants and a continuation of improvements to downtown.

Bujold suggested in the study that city-owned land in the area of First Avenue North and 11th Street would be ideal for new retail business.

However, like residents, business owners are wary of the state uncertainty, the study said.

Bujold said despite perceptions, Moorhead is poised for growth.

To encourage that, $84,755 was budgeted by the Economic Development Authority and Neighborhood Services for a communications and marketing plan.

On Tuesday, Chris Hagen with Flint Communications said the marketing strategy will not only include online ads for the city but an eventual redesign of the city website and a mini site that touts reasons to move to the city.

“The ultimate objective of the communications is about crating confidence in a Moorhead investment decision,” Hagen said.

City Manager Michael Redlinger said Tuesday’s look at the city marketing plan and 2011 study is the first time in four years, the council could focus on future growth instead of current flooding during a spring meeting.

“It’s a timely topic. We hope to reclaim our agenda. We want to reclaim our time,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530