Spec no more

While I was gone the Hibbing Daily Tribune reported on a press event held by the city of Hibbing and officials from Detroit Diesel, who will occupy the spec building out by the airport in 2015. I just wrote about that project a few days ago.

It’s a big job-creating project and I join everyone in welcoming Detroit Diesel to the community.

But that shell of a spec building sat empty for six years. The development by the airport is ten miles from the heart of the city, where the downtown struggles and many buildings are decaying. I’m sorry, I can’t join the sentiment that spec buildings are good ideas. They aren’t. There are a variety of ways to attract companies like Detroit Diesel.

If you want to build on speculation, speculate that money spent on the heart of your community, in ways that directly benefit people who live here now, is money well spent. It will be several more years for the costs of the airport building to be realized in tax revenue and economic growth in the city. By then, another decade down and the kids still ain’t stickin’ around. The question to ask is, “do people aspire to live here.” Sure, they’ll move for a job or a spouse, but do they say “I wanna live in Hibbing” the same way people say that about New York, Minneapolis, Duluth or others?

Just walk down the streets of downtown Hibbing. Walk the Irongate Mall. Look around. Tell me I’m wrong. You have no idea how much I’d rather be wrong about this.


  1. I think you make an excellent point, Aaron. In the end, it is not the spec building approach that will save us–although I was thrilled to learn about the Detroit Diesel development. What I am hoping this development will do is bring a little hope back into the people of Hibbing. It can indeed be depressing to see the emptiness and struggle in the community that you notice downtown and at the Irongate Mall, but every little spark helps and perhaps united they can start a fire.

    Current Hibbing residents and ex-pats like myself need to be willing to dream and risk and ultimately invest in the community we love and want to create anew. I think we’ve been stuck for too long in a rut where we expect the abstract “other” personified by orgs like the IRRRB, the city council, HEDA, the Chamber, etc to do something big to ultimately save us. I think the answer is many of us doing little things, uniting our efforts and taking risks…but to do that, we’ve got to have hope. I hope this Detroit Diesel investment inspires that and becomes something the rest of us can build on.

  2. Hey Jennifer,

    Its nice to see you.

    You and Aaron are right. I think about this a lot for some reason. There are so many factors that I feel are not realized or not considered. A lot of people do not seem to comprehend that the Iron Range has so much of what people are currently looking for. Some of the best downtown apartments I lived in were in Hibbing. There is value not being captured.

    People want the exact living spaces that exist in downtowns on the Range. You can even consider all of the visual appeal and uniqueness. Transit is an issue. I feel like the trolley should be in use. However ridiculous that sounds today. Dennis would lay the tracks (ha). Most of it is walkable, if the sidewalks were shoveled in winter. There are perfect urban centers that appear to be overlooked, or intentionally neglected.

    There is a cultural hurdle. There wasn’t always. I feel like things turned from a rock station, or Real Country, demographic to a 99.9 Radio USA demographic over the last decade or so. Does that make sense?

    Sometimes I feel like if I was a giant outside multi-national corporation it would be in my self-interest to change that demographic. I would do what I could to bring in one type of person while getting rid of another. I wouldn’t try to change the laws or culture of a community. I would create a plan to change the entire community. Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated…

    Anyway, that Klemz guy wrote a pretty good piece at MinnPost about this stuff.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Jen and Trevor.

    @Jen, point taken. I don’t have any problems with Detroit Diesel, I only question whether the spec building was necessary to attract them. I also have a problem with Hibbing (and most of the region’s towns) putting their new development so far from the city center that it’s almost like starting a new city. How many of those new workers will live in the city of Hibbing? Some, sure. But many will live out in the country or in other areas, which benefits the region, perhaps, but that wasn’t the city’s intent in spending the money how they did. And they’re now doubling the size of the spec building because DD needs it bigger. Ugh, it just frustrates me to no end.

    I also observe the cultural change Trevor sees. I like the radio station reference, probably apt. I am coming to the belief that the region will only experience significant change when new people come in. And I believe they will, for the very factors that you point out. It’s cheaper, and increasingly more temperate. Complain as we do about development, it’s still a chance to live in a civilized place very near nature, which will become a commodity in the future.

    So who moves here? I guarantee whether its immigrants, urbane hipsters or some fundamentalist sect (perhaps all of the above) it will provoke conflict, and good thing.

    The Iron Range was at its best when it was, as Pam Brunfelt describes, an urban corridor. Hibbing’s hey-day was when it was a true city, with urban problems and amenities. Taken together, Range towns are equal in size to Duluth and that’s how we need to think about the region if we are to experience the benefits of true economic diversification. The country will become the “suburbs.”

    And HUZZAH for the Doofenshmirtz reference. Klaus could get elected around here, wouldn’t even have to hatch a plot. 🙂

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