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Sen. Julianne Ortman

Looking for a Republican suburban woman and other thoughts

MinnPost ran a story last week on prospective GOP candidates for Governor.  Of note in that story was a quote from prominent Republican operative Ben Golnik lamenting the fact that “the ideal candidate — a female from the suburbs” wasn’t out there.  As such, I found it interesting that the name of State Senator Julianne Ortman didn’t come up.  Ortman’s resume — in the Senate over a decade, former Deputy Majority Leader, a caucus leader on tax and legal issues — stacks up comparably against many of the other named contenders.  And she’s one of the Senate GOP’s better communicators, as evidenced by her continuing high profile despite not holding a formal leadership position anymore.

I have no idea if Ortman is interested in higher office — perhaps she’s signaled she’s not, which is why she didn’t make this piece.  But it seems that for many, the list of women available for statewide runs in the Minnesota Republican Party ends with Laura Brod now that Amy Koch is out of the Senate.

Given that the current list of prospective candidates all have significant question marks as it relates to their ability to either earn the Republican endorsement or win a general election — Sen. Dave Thompson might be too conservative for a statewide election, Rep. Kurt Zellers was widely criticized for his leadership (or lack thereof) last session as Speaker of the House, Sen. David Hann was an also-ran in the 2010 race for Governor, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has perhaps spent too much time on gun issues for the base’s liking, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has already lost one statewide race (Attorney General in 2006) — it seems maybe the list of usual suspects should be expanded.  But, of course, I doubt the Republicans are looking to me for advice.

Here are some other things happening in the community:

  • In case you haven’t already heard, two new restaurants opened in Chaska in the last week or so:  BullChicks in Chaska Commons, and Egg & Pie Diner in downtown.  I’m hearing positive word-of-mouth on both.
  • The two facility taskforces convened by the Eastern Carver County School District continue to make progress.  The High School taskforce is wrestling with the question of balancing programming and demographics between Chaska and Chanhassen High Schools.  Meanwhile, the Early Childhood through Middle School task force is working on finding the best way to deal with overcrowded schools on the west side of the District as well as finding a permanent home for the La Academia Spanish immersion program.  I am a member of the Early Childhood through Middle School task force  and I can attest to the difficult challenges that lie ahead here.  Over the next few months, there will be opportunities for public input on potential changes — I encourage you to keep your eyes open and attend those sessions when they occur.

More pizza pizza for Chaska

According to the staff report for Monday’s City Council meeting, Little Caesar’s Pizza is planning on going into the former Domino’s Pizza location in the Brickyard Shopping Mall.  The opening date is yet to be announced.

Also of note in the staff report is the fact that two developers are moving forward on plans to start development in Southwest Chaska, both with intentions of breaking ground this summer.  That’s excellent news!

Chaska Area News and Notes: April 23, 2012

Assorted news and observations from the last few days:

  • I finally got down to Patron Mexican Restaurant over the weekend, and I highly recommend it!  Good food and fairly priced.  Service was a touch slow, but I was willing to live with it because it was nice to see a downtown Chaska restaurant that was busy.  Check out their Facebook page for more information.
  • Chaska Middle School West math teacher Michelle Schnaare was named District 112′s Teacher of the Year on Saturday night.  Schnaare receives a $3,000 grant to use on a classroom project of her design.  Congratulations to her and the other finalists:  Chris Commers (Chaska High School, Social Studies), Sara Falkofske (Chanhassen High School, Science), Marie Foster (Chaska Elementary, 4th grade) and Angie Kissock (Chanhassen High,  Physical Fitness).
  • I attended the first annual Pride of Chaska BBQ Bash on Friday night benefiting Chaska High School.  A great event that raised about $50,000 towards building a competition-caliber softball field at the school as well as acquiring a marimba for the music program.
  • After a series of neighborhood meetings, the plan for Griep Park is being finalized and will be reviewed by the Chaska Park Board at next month’s meeting, which will be on Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Chaska Community Center.
  • Supporters of Ron Paul for President have been very successful in getting their delegates through to the upper levels of the Republican caucus process.  Over the weekend, it was reported that Paul supporters earned 20 of the 24 Congressional District delegate spots, despite finishing a distant second to Rick Santorum in the non-binding vote at the precinct caucuses in February.  This is not going over well in some quarters of the party.
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Chaska Herald column, April 5, 2012: City needs to stick to the plan

Below is the commentary I wrote for this week’s Chaska Herald:

There has been significant angst expressed in the Chaska Herald’s letters to the editor and in various online forums about some of the recent happenings in the city’s business environment.  Let’s put a little perspective around some of these events.

In January, the abrupt closing of the Chaska Rex movie theater again raised concerns about the viability of businesses in downtown Chaska.  Letter writers in the March 15 and March 22 editions of the Herald called for more attention from the City Council, media outlets, and residents to the situation.

The challenges that downtown Chaska faces didn’t just develop in the last couple of years; it’s been an ongoing process for a long time.  I haven’t lived here as long as many of you (nine years and counting now), but one letter writer pointed out significant business closings downtown going back to the late 1980s.  People can and will go back and dissect things the City Council did or didn’t do, ways society has changed, and ways our community has changed to determine why things developed the way they did.

But what we need to focus on as a community is: how do we go forward from here?  Many of the critics point the finger at the City Council.  I’ll certainly agree that the Council has at times seemed slow to recognize or react to the problems downtown.

The Downtown Master Plan should change that equation, though.  The final chapter of the document sets out a number of guidelines for implementation of the Plan.  It is critical that the Council and city staff follows the prescriptions in that Plan and start addressing some of the “low-hanging fruit” that can provide immediate benefits to the downtown community.

I’m hopeful this can occur.  A few years ago, questions about parking downtown would be answered by references to statistical studies that showed that their formulas said there was more than enough parking downtown – ignoring the real facts that people don’t park their cars based on statistical studies.  Now, the city seems to understand that if people think there’s a parking problem, then there’s a parking problem.  Perception is – in cases like this – reality.

The Plan calls for annual action plans to be created and published, so the public can be aware of how progress is being made on these objectives.  Key things that can be done now include:  improving signage in and around downtown and across Chaska to funnel people to the downtown region, continue work with key partners (like Southwest Metro Transit) to improve parking options downtown, and develop marketing strategies and collateral for attracting businesses, customers, and tourists to downtown.

A great deal of time, effort, and taxpayer expense has gone into the creation of this Plan.  It is up to us as citizens to hold city officials accountable for carrying through and making the changes prescribed in the Plan, however.  It is also up to us as citizens to recognize that the city can’t do everything on its own.  The city can do much to make Chaska an attractive place to own and operate a business, but it is ultimately up to those business owners to elect to invest in Chaska.

This point brings us to the second event that concerned some in our community:  the approval of the building of a second McDonald’s location in the city.

Everybody has got their own personal favorite restaurant or retail store that they’d love to see in Chaska.  From Taco Bell to Whole Foods, from IHOP to Trader Joe’s, just about every name has been bandied about by someone.

In the end, though, what we would like has to bump up against the reality of who wants to make the investment in our community.  The Hazeltine Plaza development was platted in 2006 to have up to three small- to medium-box sized retail stores next to Kohl’s, plus two small Chaska Commons style strip malls that could each hold up to nine businesses each, plus two fast-food restaurant pads.

Yet, Kohl’s has sat up there alone since September 2008.

It would be nice to turn up our noses at a second McDonald’s because there’s a long line of other companies willing to snap up that spot and build there instead.  But, unfortunately, that isn’t the case right now.  And yes, there’s concern about whether or not this area can support two McDonald’s.  On the other hand, no company has a better record of picking sites across the globe than they do.

So, let’s welcome McDonald’s investment in Chaska and hope that their example inspires others to follow.  With hard work and cooperation across our city, we can build thriving business communities in downtown and on top of the hill.

Chaska News and Notes: March 15, 2012

Some news and notes from around Chaska and Carver County:

  • A prehearing conference in the Rep. Ernie Leidiger speeding ticket case will take place on April 4.
  • Sen. Julianne Ortman voted in favor of the right-to-work constitutional amendment in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.  The amendment now moves to the Senate Rules Committee, and if it passes, it could move to the floor for final approval.
  • Chanhassen resident Cindy Pugh has announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for State House in District 33B (northeastern Chanhassen plus the Lake Minnetonka region).  Pugh will be challenging incumbent GOP State Rep. Steve Smith, who is running for his 12th term.  Pugh is a well-known Republican activist and the co-founder of the SW Metro Tea Party group.
  • The McDonald’s proposal will come before the Chaska City Council on Monday, March 19.
  • Tickets for the First Annual Chaska BBQ Bash are now available.  The event is being put together by the Pride of Chaska group and benefits Chaska High School Activities and Athletics.  The event is on Friday, April 20 at Hazeltine National Golf Club and features a live auction emceed by WCCO-TV’s Frank Vascellero.
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McDonald’s to Hazeltine Plaza

On Wednesday, the Chaska Planning Commission will be hearing an application from McDonald’s to build a new location in the Hazeltine Plaza development.  Hazeltine Plaza is the development at the corner of MN-41 and Hazeltine Boulevard, where Kohl’s Department Store is currently the only tenant.

The area highlighted in red below is the area in which the McDonald’s is being proposed.

Hazeltine Plaza development map, from developer Wallingford Properties

The Planning Commission will also be reviewing plats for the Chevalle development and a concept plan in the Heights of Chaska.  Here’s the full agenda.

Chaska Herald: Patron Mexican Restaurant opens

The Chaska Herald reports that Patron Mexican Restaurant opened yesterday in the former La Quebrada/River City Pub/Chestnuts location at the corner of MN-41 and Second Street in downtown Chaska.

No website is yet available for the restaurant.

Let’s try it again: Patron Mexican Restaurant opening downtown [UPDATED]

The Chaska Herald reports that Patron Mexican Restaurant will be taking over the site at the northwest corner of MN-41 and Second Street.  La Quebrada was the most recent tenant of the site, closing earlier in the year.  Previously, the site was Mi Casa, River City Pub, and Chestnuts.  Hopefully, Patron will find better success!  No opening date has been set yet.

[UPDATE, February 17]:  Patron is open!

News Roundup, August 9

A few short items of note:

La Quebrada closed

Commenter Kristine alerted me to the fact that La Quebrada appears to be closed.  Calls to their phone number come back as disconnected.

Looks like the restaurant wasn’t able to overcome its rough start.  Let’s hope we can get something new in its place soon.

What would you like to see take the place of La Quebrada?  Leave your comments and let’s have some discussion!

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