Wild personnel make trip to Pine City to meet and greet fans

1 - Kurtis Gabriel

Kurtis Gabriel

Members ofwild road tour the Minnesota Wild will soon visit Pine City as a part of its 2016 Wild Road Tour Schedule.

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits

Mario Lucia

The Pine City stop will include recently-signed Wild forwards Kurtis Gabriel and Mario Lucia, the son of legendary Gopher coach Don Lucia and brother of Ali Lucia of WCCO-TV. They will be joined by former Wild forward Wes Walz and Wild television analyst Mike Greenlay.

The Road Tour will stop at the Pine City Civic Center on June 21 from noon to 1 p.m.  

The 2016 Minnesota Wild Road

3 - wes walz

Wes Walz

2012 NHL All-Star Game - Mascot Portraits


4 - mike greenlay

Mike Greenlay

Tour will conclude with the Summer Bash and NHL Entry Draft Viewing Party from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, June 24 at Xcel Energy Center.  It will feature interactive games, photo and autograph opportunities from Wild players and NHL Alumni, a live broadcast from KFAN 100.3 FM and more.  The 2016 NHL Entry Draft will take place at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., June 24-25.

Pine City market ready for its first hotel in more than 40 years

Pine City is ripe for a hotel, according to a market study of the area.

“We’ve been ready for some time,” asserted Nathan Johnson, Community Development Director.  “Now we just have the data to back it up.”

Consultants examined four sites, two on the north and two on the south side of town.  The sites were the JPL site at on the 1200-block of 8th Street NW (site 3 below) and the Pine City Freeway Investments site on the 1300-block of Northridge Drive NW (site 4) near Exit 171; and the RCF Holdings site on the 1200-block of Hillside Avenue SW (site 2) and the Pine City Interchange site at 1542 Hillside Avenue SW (site 1) near Exit 169.

Hotel Sites

Pine City, in partnership with the EDA, Initiative Foundation and Greater Pine Area Endowment, hired Growth Services Group (GSG) of Missouri in January to determine the feasibility and possible success of bringing a hotel to town.  Consultants determined the town could sustain a 42-room hotel with a business center, banquet space to accommodate greater than 25 people, hot breakfast, fitness room and a pool.

Despite a number of other hotels within 20 miles of Pine City, including a giant 563-room hotel at Grand Casino Hinckley, consultants pointed to a 6.5-percent increase in area lodging from 2009 to 2015 as a reason the market area could sustain another provider of overnight accommodations.

“With wedding venues, major community events, the North West Company Fur Post, a growing business community and our area lakes, we have plenty of travelers to house for the night, especially in the warmer months,” explained Johnson, adding, “Not everyone wants to stay at a casino 15 miles away.”

GSG’s report recommendations said, “Review of demographics and community interviews suggested that a mid-level to upper mid-level hotel would be ideal and provide the amenities to meet the community’s needs.  This type of hotel would be well received and provide a new tier to effectively draw guests back to Pine City from the nearby surrounding markets.”

The cost to develop such a hotel would be about $109,000 per room, or about $4.6 million for a 42-room building.  Consultants predict five years after the development the hotel will have an average yearly occupancy rate of 65.7-percent and the average daily rate would be $101.83.

Pine City had a number of hotels in its early years, the last of which was the Agnes Hotel which stood until 1974.  Two roadside motels remained since then, one 20-room facility (the Old Oak Inn) which is set for demolition due to redevelopment of the site, and another 12-room facility, the Gail Motel, which has operated since 1955.

“Given the positive results of the study, the uptick in commercial and residential development activity along with all the city has to offer in amenities, including the wide range of annual events that draw visitors to our great community, our hope is that hotel developers will be drawn to our market,” said Mayor Carl Pederson.

Copies of the study are available on the City’s website.  Contact Johnson at 320.629.2575, ext. 105, or by emailing njohnson@pinecitygov.com with questions regarding the study.

New planning commission appointment sworn in: Chris Fossum

  • City seeks student rep for Commission.  Applications available at City Hall.
Chris Fossum 2015

Chris Fossum

Chris Fossum was given his oath of office by Chair Frank Christopherson at the most recent Planning Commission meeting May 24.

Fossum, age 39, lives in the Hazel Park Addition near the fairgrounds.   He works as a data coordinator and a business services representative for Pine Technical & Community College.  He is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, having earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.

“It is my goal to be a productive and effective team member by upholding and enforcing the rules of conduct, bylaws, statutes and ordinances to support opportunities, growth and sustainability to the Pine City community,” said Fossum, in an application to the City seeking the mayor’s appointment.

Mayor Carl Pederson appointed Fossum to serve out the remainder of Dan Rydberg’s term, who passed away in March.

The student representative position remains unfilled at this time.   Gracie LeBrun held the position, but she graduated with the Class of 2016 and plans to attend the University of Northwestern in the fall.

Planning Commission meetings are held the Fourth Tuesdays of each month at the Pine Government Center in the Council Chambers beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Is Austin, Minn. really more than Spam?

  • Small-town city planner’s visit reveals a lot about Austin

A recent free weekend, a rarity, I decided to visit what was considered “greener pastures” for a dynamic, past music educator at Pine City High School, Brad Mariska.  Brad had set out for Spamtown USA after his time in Pine, leaving a huge hole to fill in the local music program.  During Brad’s short tenure, Pine City was thrice named a “Best Community for Music Education in America” by the NAMM Foundation.

But Austin had to look good on paper for Brad.  The southeastern Minnesota city located near the Iowa border is another one of those vibrant, All-American small towns.  As it turns out, Austin is the only city in Greater Minnesota with a Fortune 500 company.  There is a sense of pride there, one that can be appreciated by a band director whose students perform about town at the various school activities and town functions.

Before Brad left, I recall several visits at Nicoll’s Café, downtown Pine City, whereby Brad would help share his vision for Pine City.  I came to find out that, overall, this band director has a real appreciation not only for music, but also for cities… and their respective people… and their respective people’s hopes and dreams.   Conversations with him were fascinating for a city planner such as myself.

2016-05-31 21.15.46

Breakfast with a side of Spam at Kenny’s Oak Grill in Austin.

After a few years of vicariously (mainly through social media) seeing the energy Brad brought to the Packers’ band program in Austin, I had to go check out this city for myself.  I’d been to Albert Lea and Rochester and other regional hubs of that area, but unfortunately I hadn’t made it to this place some 25,000 Minnesotans call home and I wanted to know what it was like.

Further, I wanted to see what the relocation meant for Brad, and how the health of the city really was.  After reading a 2014 article in the Star Tribune, “Midwest Traveler: Austin, Minn., is more than Spam”, I had to see if Austin offered something more.

I had been wanting to visit for some time, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the gorgeous Wikipedia page that was created for Austin.  On it, I discovered so many things I did not even consider about Austin, that there exists an arts community and a recreational haven with a plethora of things to do besides visit the new Spam Museum.  I simply could not believe the quantity of parks and trails in Austin, probably some of the most per capita of anywhere in the State (28 parks).

Things I really enjoyed about my visit:

  • Vision 2020. I came across many people who knew about, and even bought into, Austin’s Vision 2020.  It’s rare when a planning and community development initiative is well known across a community, and generally supported.
  • Souvenirs.  There was an aisle in the main local grocery store, Hy-Vee, with a label called “canned meats”, perfect for the tourist who wants to get stocked up on rarer flavors of Spam.
  • Walkability.  The community was very walkable, with a highly-developed sidewalk network with few gaps.
  • Car chargers. An EV-owner, I really appreciated the charging stations in downtown Austin, near shops, restaurants and the famous Spam Museum.
  • Diversity.  From my initial walk through an Austin neighborhood, I noticed a lot of diversity.  With almost 4,000 Latino residents, 1,000 black or African Americans, and 600 Asians, Austin is more diverse than the typical Minnesota city by a long shot.  Over 2,600 residents of this city were foreign born, of which over one-in-ten people living in Austin were primarily coming from Latin America.

Minor critiques:

  • Far-flung hotels. The majority of hotel rooms are north of I-90, which is not very enticing to walk downtown, south of the freeway.
  • Hidden public facilities. The newer detention center, which I’m sure cost county taxpayers a great deal, seems to be hidden from the Main Street streetscape with a memorial and shrubbery.
  • Address numbering. The address numbering system is off-kilter.   For example, one of the McDonald’s is located on the 900-block of West Oakland Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets, but its address number is 1009.  There are countless examples of this throughout town.

Extraordinarily interesting or uniquely Austin:

  • The city’s name. I found it interesting that Austin was named after Austin Nichols.  The town bears his first name, not his last like the vast majority of other towns named after people.
  • 2016-05-31 21.21.49 (2)

    Rydjor Bike Shop

    One of a kind places. The downtown Rydjor Bike Shop and Paramount Theater are among them.  You will know them when you see them.

  • Frank W. Bridges Theater.  There is a theater here apparently at the community college named after someone still living, another rarity.
  • Unique meeting spaces. There’s the Hormel Historic Home, the upstairs of the Austin ArtWorks Center, and the gay-owned Coffee House on Main.  Lots of classy meeting space for your gatherings.
  • The Meeting. Apparently, “The Meeting” takes place on Friday nights at Dusty’s Bar & Lounge, downtown Austin.  It is less a meeting and more an end-of-the-week release for teachers, Hormel workers and other professionals in the community; the clientele was definitely not a typical bar crowd in a small town.  I’m not sure how long this establishment has been around, but “The Meeting” is already a tradition.
  • Barbecue.  Who knew some of the best bar-b-que I have ever come across would be in Austin, Minnesota, and not Kansas City or Austin, Texas, for that matter?   The place is called Piggy Blues Bar-B-Que and it is entirely worth it.
2016-05-31 21.17.00

Upstairs at Austin ArtWorks Center

Similarities with Pine City:

  • County seats. Both cities are county seats of their respective counties, Pine and Mower.    And, both, historically, have had to struggle to maintain county seat status.  Apparently, the Mower County capitol was originally in LeRoy but apparently men on horseback came and stole the county papers during the middle of the night and made Austin the capitol.  In Pine County, Sandstone and more centrally-located Hinckley have unsuccessfully vied to be the county seat in the past.
  • Business loops. Both are located on freeways but also have officially-designated Business Loops running through them.   Only a small handful of cities across the state have business loops:  Albert Lea, Faribault, and Pine City (on I-35); Worthington, Fairmont and Austin (I-90); and Moorhead (I-94).
  • Wikipedia pages. Both Pine City and Austin have stellar Wikipedia pages related to their aesthetics, structure, writing style, coverage and factuality.   The world can learn a lot about these communities virtually and, quite possibly, be inspired to visit.
  • Arts Destinations. It is not hard to access art in either community with active arts organizations galore.

Obviously, on my next visit I’ll be sure to visit the J.C. Hormel Nature Center and the infamous newly-opened SPAM Museum and Visitor Center.  But, for this trip, I was more than satisfied with my time here.  Austin is definitely more than Spam.  Although, I did buy over $70 of the “Miracle in a can” before leaving town.

Nathan Johnson writes about cities and people, and he has been nationally-recognized as an “Outstanding Small Town and Rural Planner”.

East Central Minnesota Pride Moves, Scheduled for June 5

Sunday, June 5, the small town of Pine City, Minn. will again be the setting of one of the few rural LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) pride celebrations in the world, ‘East Central Minnesota Pride.’

2016 marks the twelfth anniversary of this event which offers music, food and a rendezvous of friends, family and community in a new location—downtown Pine City in the Robinson Park town square.  Having moved from across the Snake River in Voyageur Park to the heart of Pine City, this year’s gathering promotes the theme “Pride in the Heart.”

Take it With You Live Radio Theater“We’ve managed to overcome all of the obstacles thrown our way by the people who are less open-minded than us, and yet we’re still here,” said Ariel Dunbar of Pine City, a member of the East Central Minnesota Pride Board.  “We’re still growing stronger”.

Neighberz Band

The Neigherz Band

Headlining Pride is Minneapolis-based, British singer-songwriter Katy Vernon.  Also performing are North Branch-based The Neighberz Band, no stranger to East Central Minnesota, and Duluth-based “Take It With You” live radio theatre.  Twin Cities Public Television’s Val Mondor returns as this year’s emcee and Geo Montecillo will deejay.

This celebration serves the five county region of East Central Minnesota, Pine, Isanti, Chisago, Kanabec and Mille Lacs Counties, and attracts attendees from the hubs of the region such as North Branch (pop. 10,087), and even its tiny villages, like Denham (pop. 34).

Geo Montecillo

Deejay Geo

East Central Minnesota Pride involves many collaborators including East Central Minnesota Men’s Circle, East Central Minnesota Purple Circle, East Central Minnesota chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Rural Aids Action Network, Rainbow Health Initiative and OutFront Minnesota, among others.

Katy Vernon

Katy Vernon

Several businesses throughout the region support and help sponsor the event as well, and this activity is funded through a grant from the East Central Regional Arts Council through an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the State’s General Fund.

This rural part of Minnesota has seen much change over the last twelve years.  Most recent Census data show that in 2010 Pine City and its surrounding townships have become some of the gay strongholds of Minnesota, with the most same-sex coupled households of anywhere else outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Val Mondor

Val Mondor

East Central Minnesota Pride kicks off the first such celebration in Minnesota each year during what President Obama has declared as “Pride Month,” June.  The other Gay Prides in the state are in Fargo-Moorhead, Duluth-Superior, Mankato, Rochester and the Twin Cities, all of which are in metropolitan areas.

“Our goal has always been to provide caring support and friendship for LGBT people living in the rural area of Minnesota,” said Don Quaintance of Centerville, a founding Pride Board member.  “This event brings people from all walks of life together in friendship, community and progress in understanding.”


Key Details

  • Date: Sunday, June 5, from Noon to 5p.m.
  • Location: Robinson Park, 200 5th Street SE, Pine City, MN
  • Performing: Katy Vernon, The Neighberz Band and “Take It With You” live radio theatre
  • Admission: $10 suggested donation for food
  • For more information, visit eastcentralminnesotapride.com.

Pride Flier Final.jpg

Whad’ya Know? They threw a dart and it landed on Pine City, Minn.

When Pine City set out to establish something sleak, clever and that separated Pine City from the “Up North” pack, it came up with “North. Nice and close.”  It has many meanings and interpretations but maybe none as funny as what’s heard in this segment on Wisconsin Public Radio:


By the way, the tagline rationale is officially:

  • North – conceptual metaphor, not just directional
  • Nice – good community/nice people/nice small town
  • Close – close knit community/close to large metropolitan area(s)
  • “And” – Nice and close (nice people with a close knit community) Or Nice plus close (location/proximity)

Santa Bob Haedt (not “Haedp”) adds some humor of his own.  Enjoy!





Planning Commission recognizes ‘Citizen Planner’ and Gives Site Improvement Award

Frank and Mayor

Planning Commission Chair Frank Christopherson was awarded ‘Citizen Planner’ honors by Mayor Carl Pederson

The Pine City Planning Commission has named another Citizen Planner, Frank Christopherson, and has recognized another business for improving its appearance, Wiedemann Plumbing & Heating L. L. C.


Christopherson, manager of Pine City’s US Bank branch, was appointed to the Planning Commission January, 2005, by former Mayor Jane Robbins.  He was elected chair in January, 2013, succeeding Mary Kay Sloan when she was elected to the City Council.  He also serves on the Pine City EDA.

“Planners are not just those in the profession,” said Nathan Johnson, Community Development Director/Planner.  “It takes a community.”

Wiedemann Building

305 3rd Avenue SE – Before

Wiedemann Plumbing & Heating L. L. C. was recognized for vastly improving the building at 305 3rd Avenue SE.  The proprietor, Weylon Wiedemann, purchased the building from Robert Buckley in 2013 and has been steadily making façade improvements ever since.



Johnson said, “The Commission had a number of sites it debated recognizing this time.  It is great to see so many investing in their properties and storefronts.”

Wiedemann - after

305 3rd Avenue SE – After

“It’s great to see renovations of local business establishments,” added Mayor Carl Pederson.  “It presents an expression that Pine City is a thriving and vibrant community.  It is an honor to present this award on behalf of the City to recognize Wiedemann’s for their improvements to their business.”

Pine City loses longtime Planning Commissioner, Dan Rydberg

Dan Rydberg

Dan Rydberg

Oct. 21, 1951 – March 22, 2016

Daniel Rydberg, Sr., 64, was appointed by then-Mayor Jane Robbins to the Planning Commission in 2005; at the time, he replaced Mark Nisley who was elected to serve on the City Council.

“I enjoyed his sense of humor and dedication to the community,” said Nathan Johnson, Community Development Director.  “He had that verbose exterior, but underneath all that, he was kind-hearted.  He was totally, totally dedicated to the City of Pine City.”

“He committed himself to public service in the truest and noblest sense, and he will be missed,” said current Mayor Carl Pederson.