The Fergus Falls Port Authority was established on Jan. 1, 1986. When one thinks of a port or a port authority, one likely pictures Minnesota cities like Duluth or St. Paul. Fergus Falls is eligible to have a port authority due to the Otter Tail River running through the city. Having a port authority offers many advantages for the 25 Minnesota cities that have them.
Port authorities have several exclusive economic development capabilities which exist to support the community. The port authority can buy, develop, lease and sell property; it has eminent domain powers; it can issue general obligation bonds for development and redevelopment without a referendum. A Port Authority can act as a limited partner; and it can make or purchase loans for financing assistance to private industrial or commercial corporations.
Recently, the port authority commissioners, along with city staff, worked together on defining their mission and vision. The mission of the FFPA is to facilitate economic and community development by investing in the city’s infrastructure as an interim landowner. The vision is to increase the tax base, promote new jobs, and enhance the quality of life for residents.
As an example of how the FFPA can assist its community and uphold its vision, the port is currently assisting Lakes Country Service Co-Op with opening a new Level 4 education center at the former Fergus Falls Army Reserve Training Center. The FFPA has purchased the building and bonded for renovation costs that Lakes Country Service Co-op will pay back in full. This new learning center will serve at least 50 youth and bring in 40-50 jobs, with the potential of serving up to 84 students and having 70 staff when it reaches full capacity.
The FFPA also purchased the dairy property along the river. The state has approved a demolition and environmental clean-up loan, with large portions of the loan forgivable upon development. The plan is to clean up the site, provide recreational opportunities along the riverfront, and market the property for future redevelopment.
In September, Klara Beck, the city’s community development manager, was appointed the executive director of the FFPA. The commissioners are appointed by the mayor for two year terms. Prior to 2019, only city council members sat on the port authority. In 2019, Mayor Ben Schierer sought to diversify the port authority by keeping four members of the City Council and adding three members from the community. Current members from the City Council are Brent Thompson, Karoline Gustafson, Anthony Hicks, and Tom Rufer. Members from the community are Steve Schoeneck, Bridget Leonard and Rebecca Petersen.
FFPA meetings are held the third Monday of the month at 4:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.