All systems ‘go’ for 17th

$750,000 grant provides key funding piece for major improvements

by Tom Coombe -

The final piece of a funding puzzle is now in place, allowing a long-discussed city project to move forward later this year.
Thanks to a $750,000 award from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, funding is now set for the city’s 17th Avenue East Project.
New pavement, infrastructure and sidewalks are part of the major reconstruction project set for this summer.
Initially, the city was set to receive a $200,000 grant from DEED’s Greater Minnesota Business Development Infrastructure program.
But lobbying by city officials, including an appeal from mayor Chuck Novak to Gov. Mark Dayton and the governor’s aides, helped lead to the much larger award, which was announced Mar. 13.
“That was really good news,” Novak told council members at Tuesday’s meeting.
The project has been the top priority for city officials for several years and Novak has doggedly pursued funding on several fronts.
Earlier in the year, the IRRRB granted $450,000 for the project, and the state award will augment a $400,000 city match for a total cost of approximately $1.6 million.
Novak contends the project is vital to economic development, noting the avenue connects with Miners Drive, which leads to the city’s business park.
City officials also note the proximity to Vermilion Community College and college officials have lamented that few, if any, state schools are abutted by a gravel road, as is currently the case on 17th and the east side of the Vermilion campus.
DEED was receptive to the city’s appeal,with commissioner Shawntera Hardy saying, in a letter announcing the award, that the grant “will provide the necessary resources for continued economic growth and enhance employment in the community and surrounding area.”
Once complete, the project will provide not only a freshly-paved road but sidewalks on one side of the avenue up to Sheridan Street.
The DEED grant provides a new source for state funding for the city after attempts to access state bonding money for the initiative were unsuccessful.
State Sen. Tom Bakk (D-Cook) doused hopes for the bonding request last December, telling city officials publicly that securing state bonds for “a city street project” would be a tough sell in St. Paul and create a difficult precedent.
Ely remains in the running for $1.3 million in state bonding for another project, the development of a trailhead at the city’s west entrance.
Groundbreaking has not yet been set, but the project is part of what figures to be busy summer of construction in Ely.
In late-July, work will begin on a major reconstruction of Seventh Avenue East from Sheridan to Pattison streets.