CRE Midwest

St. Cloud is Minnesota’s five-tool real estate player

Although they might not eat as many hot dogs, commercial site selectors are like baseball scouts in that both are always searching for the perfect prospects.

The ideal in baseball is called a “five-tool player” – someone who excels at throwing, fielding, running, hitting for average and hitting for power. Those players are extremely rare, though, because very few can do everything well.

Of course, very few development locations can do everything well, either. But one rare exception is St. Cloud, whose land availability, readiness, access, affordability and development assistance have made it Minnesota’s five-tool commercial real estate player.

“The newest opportunity in St. Cloud is the 100 acres ready for development adjacent to our new highway interchange and the proposed site of a new high school,” says St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, adding that its location is just 60 minutes from the 494-694 loop. “With the CentraCare campus, VA Medical Center and bustling Crossroads Mall all nearby, these 100 acres are as close to the corner of Main & Main as you’ll find for prime land near the Twin Cities.”

So let’s expand on St. Cloud’s five tools:

Land availability In addition to the 100 acres the Mayor mentions, which are one mile from I-94, St. Cloud has two business parks that can accommodate developments from five to 80 acres.

The I-94 Business Park, with 103 available acres, is home to local and international giants Anderson Trucking, Arctic Cat, New Flyer of America and others. The St. Cloud Airport Business Park was chosen over 27 competing locations around the U.S. by German-based Geringhoff, which now manufactures farm equipment in a 100,000 square foot facility there.  The Airport Business Park still has 287 acres available.

“Outside of a handful of remaining sites, the inventory for available industrial land sites along I-94 up to St. Cloud (from the Twin Cities) is minimal,” says Mark Sims, SIOR, Managing Principal of DTZ (formerly Cassidy Turley Commercial Real Estate Services) in Minneapolis. “St. Cloud will be increasingly relevant for large industrial users looking in the northwest moving forward.”

Readiness Those two business parks, as well as other sites from downtown St. Cloud to its borders, are truly shovel-ready – construction can begin immediately since all planning, zoning, surveys, title work, environmental and soil studies, public infrastructure, and engineering work are completed.

Of course, readiness also includes workforce. Partially due to the community’s 30,000 college and technical training institution students, St. Cloud has experienced the fastest labor force growth in Minnesota the past 10 years.

Others are noticing the area’s readiness, too. In March, Stearns County (for which St. Cloud is the county seat) was named among the top 10 large-sized communities in the U.S. “poised to achieve sustainable economic growth while attracting people and investment,” according to Pittsburgh-based Fourth Economy Consulting.

Access In addition to being accessible by several exits off of I-94 and a modern airport with a 7,000-foot runway, St. Cloud industry is also served by the BNSF Railway. Commuters benefit from rail service, too. In 2009, Northstar Commuter Rail service began between Minneapolis and Big Lake, just 30 miles from St. Cloud, with the intention of eventually reaching the city.

From east and west St. Cloud is close, too. It’s just 145 miles from Duluth and 170 miles from Fargo.

Affordability This topic is batting cleanup in our recap of St. Cloud’s five-tool strengths for good reason: Commercial real estate is very affordable there.

“At just $1.75 per square foot for fully-serviced property off of I-94, St. Cloud’s rates are about half of what you’ll find in the northwest metro area,” says Cathy Mehelich, director of the St. Cloud Economic Development Authority.

Development Assistance While financial assistance is great, it just scratches the surface of the assistance St. Cloud provides. Great River Energy, which sees St. Cloud’s I-94 Business Park as an excellent candidate for locating national data center operations, offers one example.

“We were impressed with the available infrastructure and access at the site,” says Tom Lambrecht, Great River Energy’s manager of economic development services. “But we were most impressed with the willingness and ability of local officials to work together.”

Statements like that confirm the need Mayor Kleis saw when he led creation of the St. Cloud EDA just four years ago.

“Prior to then St. Cloud’s economic development efforts were somewhat scattered, forcing those with an interest in developing here to chase down all kinds of information on their own,” says Kleis. “It wasn’t the best way to attract businesses and new jobs. But since we’ve created our EDA, we now do all the legwork, package the information developers need, lead the site tours and show people how much we value their interest in growing here.”

The approach is working, with every dollar of public investment resulting in $10 of private investment. Since the EDA’s inception in 2011, $5.6 million in public investment has led to $54 million in private development and more than 300,000 square feet of new construction.

“TIF, tax abatement and other financing tools are effectively used here because the City leverages incentives for job creation and tax base with our State and regional partners,” adds EDA Director Mehelich. “People now think of the St. Cloud EDA as their first-stop shop for business development assistance. Whether it’s permitting, site selection, identifying financing resources, linking business start-ups with other businesses – or whatever else is needed – we’re here to make it easier for businesses large and small to succeed in St. Cloud.”

Additional information about the EDA’s services and success stories can be found at Learn more about the city’s five-tool strengths during the St. Cloud Real Estate Development Summit, co-sponsored by the Minnesota Real Estate Journal, on May 12 at the Golden Valley Country Club.

Then when you visit St. Cloud yourself, you might want to check in on some other five-tool players. The Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame Museum is right downtown, inside the River’s Edge Convention Center.