A panel of area business owners and developers met with the Fulton City Council at the end of the Monday meeting to offer opinions on possible development plans for the city’s industrial park at 22nd Avenue.
City Administrator Randy Balk said the city seems to be caught on if leaders should develop industrial and mixed-use housing properties in this area. He said the council had mainly considered housing in case the Thomson, Ill., prison is opened. He asked the various members of the panel to offer opinions and received mixed responses.
Some of those attending felt mixed-use housing would be the best option. Businessman Mike Ottens said he liked the idea of industrial development, but given the realities of things, he leans towards the residential option. He said he does not see industries beating down doors to build in Fulton, but he does think people still want to build homes in the community.
“I think we have a potential housing market that we’re not building,” said Ottens. He said there is especially a need for senior and assisted housing. Realtor Barb Suehl-Janis also voiced the opinion that residential housing would be the best use of this land. She said there does not seem to be as much draw for industry, but there is a need for housing.
“I think it would be absolutely marvelous to think that we could ever fill that many spots with industrial growth in our community,” said Suehl-Janis.
Suehl-Janis said there are a lot of older homes in Fulton that would be perfect starter homes for first-time buyers. She said many of these are occupied by seniors and widows who might not be able to afford condos or to build a new house. She thinks some nice slab homes for seniors, as well as homes for families are needed. Suehl-Janis said Fulton has a very low residential tax base of 7.771 percent that could attract home buyers. She feels a multi-use residential plan could help provide the various building sizes the community needs.
“To me, Fulton land is precious. It is gold. We don’t have nearly enough,” said Suehl-Janis. She said without a lot of extra land, it needs to be devoted to housing.
“Where does Fulton want to go. Do we want to continue with industrial development or do we want to focus on residential as a bedroom community,” said Steve Ames, President and CEO of the Clinton Regional Development Corp.
Ames agreed there has not been much of a market for industrial and commercial properties in Fulton and housing is needed. Ultimately he said the community needs to decide what type of development it wants to see.
Resident Nancy Kolk was not in favor of developing the area for housing. She said there is a stigma in that area and does not believe that people would buy or rent homes there. Suehl-Janis disagreed with that comment. Kolk said she would rather see the city spend the effort into rehabilitating residential areas.
Developer and builder Bill Brinkman agreed to some extent with Kolk. He also pointed out that the cost of development could prevent residential development from being profitable. He said rent in Fulton is low and he thinks it would need to be higher to make property worthwhile. Steve Howes, a Realtor and CRDC member, agreed that to justify residential development, the monthly rent for a two-bedroom home would need to be $750 to $800.
Howes agreed that if the prison is opened, family unit homes will be needed. However, he said industrial and commercial properties will be needed once some of the problems with the tough economy eventually pass. Howes said communities need to plan where they will have industrial areas set aside for development. CRDC Board Chairman Bruce Christensen said the area is primed for a mid-sized industrial entity. Many of those in attendance agreed that the city needs to decide what it wants.