This article originally appeared in the September 2023 edition of the River Falls Reader.
On Tuesday, Sept. 19, the City of River Falls celebrated the groundbreaking of Mann Valley Corporate Park. Infrastructure construction is now underway and is expected to be completed in October 2024.
Located on the northwest side of the city, the park includes over 200 developable acres. At 155 acres, the largest lot is one the most sizable tracts of land in the Twin Cities metro area.
Mann Valley will be the fourth and largest corporate park in city limits. The first, River Falls Industrial Park, was established in 1989, followed by Whitetail Corporate Park in 2000 and Sterling Ponds Corporate Park in 2014.
“Right now, the largest site available in one of our business parks is around six acres,” Economic Development Manager Keri Schreiner said. “Going from six acres to one lot being 155 acres – it's really huge.”
River Falls City Councilmembers, joined by Wisconsin State Representatives Shannon Zimmerman and Warren Petryk, break ground on Mann Valley Corporate Park on Tuesday, Sept. 19.
Since 2017, City staff have responded to 30 requests for information, or RFIs, from businesses seeking more than ten acres. “We're now on a totally different scale, because that’s what we're seeing is needed,” Schreiner said. “The City Council and staff realize it’s time to make this investment so that we can continue to grow and develop in a smart way.”
The site’s concept plan, updated in 2023, includes approximately 208 acres for light industrial and manufacturing use, 10 acres of multi-family high density residential development, 37.5 acres for institutional use (owned by the School District of River Falls), and 63 acres for conservancy. The plan also includes possible areas for mixed-use development, including commercial and/or medium to high-density residential and low-density residential.
“Mann Valley is an example of persistent forward-thinking that the City has sustained through many changes in elected officials, engineers, planners, and others over a long period,” City Administrator Scot Simpson said. “This is the type of project that takes consistent, dogged attention to be implemented. The community determined this was a priority through its elected officials. It’s remained a priority, and over a decade later, it’s finally happening.”
Mayor Dan Toland delivers remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony for Mann Valley Corporate Park on Tuesday, Sept. 19.
In early 2011, the City was contacted by RiverBank about purchasing some or all of the 328 acres of vacant land it owned south of County Highway MM and east of Mann Road.
“The City was coming off a positive experience with Whitetail Corporate Park, so a priority of the Council was to continue that momentum,” Simpson said.
On Jan. 25, 2011, the City Council passed a resolution to purchase 85 acres of land from RiverBank and secure a first right of refusal for the remaining 243 acres. A first right of refusal establishes that a party has the right to acquire a private property so long as it matches the price of any third-party offer.
“One of the first challenges was identifying a prudent way to finance the purchase all of the land when we didn’t yet have a plan,” Simpson said. “The first right of refusal allowed us to eliminate the all-or-nothing approach.”
Aerial view of Mann Valley
After the initial purchase, the City began leasing portions of the land to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF) and two local famers for agricultural use. The estimated lease revenues of approximately $10,000 per year helped offset debt service costs.
“At the time, the Council wanted to ensure the City did not miss out on this land, even if they knew the process of developing it into a corporate park could take 20 years,” Schreiner said. “The idea was to get the land and lease it out to recover some cost while the Council and staff took the time to develop a solid plan.”
In 2013, the City exercised its right to purchase the adjoining 243 acres from RiverBank. Over the remainder of the decade, City staff worked hard behind-the-scenes to ready the property for development, including annexing approximately 291 acres and creating Tax Increment District (TID) #12 (learn more about TIDs here.) The district was created for the proposed development of an agricultural support building for WinField United, which had approached the City about developing a portion of the property.
After a pause in progress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum returned when 30% preliminary design plans were completed in December 2021. On May 23, 2023, among several other items, the City Council approved the creation of TID #19, awarded the Mann Valley Corporate Park infrastructure construction contract to Haas Sons, Inc., and awarded Phase I engineering services to SEH, Inc. Mann Valley had received the green light.
State Representative Warren Petryk, River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Director Russ Korpela, and State Representative Shannon Zimmerman celebrate the groundbreaking of Mann Valley Corporate Park on Tuesday, Sept. 19.
Infrastructure construction, which is now underway, includes four and a half miles of water main with a pressure reducing station, two and a half miles of sanitary sewer with a wastewater pumping station, approximately one mile of storm sewer, approximately two miles of utility maintenance/multi-use path, street and trail lighting, and 3,900 feet of roadway.
Like with Sterling Ponds Corporate Park and Whitetail Corporate Park, the City is utilizing tax increment financing to fund development costs. By creating a TID, the City is able to pay for the project with future taxes that will be collected on the TID.
The City has seen dramatic increases in value within its other corporate park TIDs. TID #13, located in Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park, has increased 126 percent since 2018. Meanwhile, TID #10, located in Sterling Ponds Corporate Park, has increased by over 34,000 percent in value since 2014.
The graph depicts the value added in TID #10 (Sterling Ponds) and TID #13 (Whitetail Ridge) from the date of their creation to now.
According to Finance Director Josh Solinger, Mann Valley Corporate Park is estimated to add approximately $110 million in new value to the city over the next five years. In the long term, based on available acreage in the park, Solinger believes the TID could add approximately $245 million by the time it closes in 2044.
An increase of this scale in the community’s assessed value also has the potential to have a moderating effect on the City’s mill rate, which is the amount of tax payable per dollar of the assessed value of a property.
“Tens of millions of dollars, or more, of new properties are typically built within a tax increment district before it closes,” Solinger said. “This allows for the tax levy to be spread over a larger total assessed value, resulting in a smaller mill rate than might otherwise occur.”
Industrial and corporate properties may not only contribute considerable tax base over time, but also may positively impact cities’ employment rates.
“We don’t yet know what new business and industry will come in, but we can reasonably predict that with all of the available acreage, Mann Valley will be bringing many more jobs to the City,” Simpson said.
Currently, many residents work outside of the city; according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average travel time to work for River Falls residents from 2017-2021 was 22.3 minutes.
“Thanks to UWRF, Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), and the School District of River Falls, we have an exceptionally robust talent pool in River Falls,” Simpson added. “Now these thinkers and innovators will have even more tools and resources to do great things here in our community.”
An artistic rendering depicts the future Science and Technology Innovation Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
In 2026, UWRF will unveil the Science and Technology Innovation Center (SciTech), a 73,865-square-foot facility where students from a wide range of majors will engage in immersive high-impact learning experiences in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychological sciences. SciTech will feature 32 undergraduate research spaces, 12 instructional labs, a UW-River Falls/business collaboration innovation space, prototyping space, makerspace, and fabrication lab.
“The opening of the Science and Technology Innovation Center and Mann Valley Corporate Park in the next two years will amplify the dynamic educational and entrepreneurial ecosystem in River Falls,” University of Wisconsin-River Falls Chancellor Maria Gallo said. “Participating businesses will benefit by engaging with expert faculty and helping develop a talented workforce pipeline for River Falls, along with improved products and services. It all adds up to the creation of more high-paying, good-quality jobs and increased, innovation-driven economic vitality in the region.”
Even through the excitement of bringing Mann Valley Corporate Park to life, the City Council and staff have maintained a strong focus on current businesses in the city.
“Say you have a company that comes into Mann Valley and takes up 50 or 100 acres,” Schreiner said. “They’re probably going to be hiring a lot of people, and those people are going to need gas, lunch, places where they can go and have their holiday celebrations. They're going to need to have food being catered. Building up our corporate parks and our business parks helps our other businesses thrive. We only see it as a benefit.”
“Mann Valley is not going to change the look and feel of our town or the things that we love about it,” Mayor Dan Toland said. “It will bring in some new neighbors, but we welcome that. The way I see it, it will add some good stuff onto what we already have.”