ST. CHARLES — More than 11 years after the North Star Foods fire destroyed St. Charles' largest employer, the plan to bring jobs back to the city has seen its next big milestone.
On Tuesday, city officials and a representative from Love's Travel Stops turned some ceremonial dirt at the Chattanooga Innovation Park at the northeast corner of Interstate 90 and Minnesota Highway 74, celebrating the construction of a new Love's Travel Stop in the city.
"You're always cautiously optimistic things will work out," said Bill Spitzer, who served as mayor in St. Charles when North Star Foods burned down and the city council developed the idea to put a commercial business park at I-90 in a spot where corn was growing at the time. "I figured it'd be a 20-year plan at best. It's amazing how much has happened in the last few years."
Current Mayor John Schaber agreed, saying the vision of the city council 10 years ago to plat the land, bring utilities out to I-90 and try to sell parcels to businesses was a venture that has paid off.
"With Love's, we're down to one lot in the original subdivision," Schaber said. "We actually bought additional land out here further to the east. We're still striving to get a hotel here."
Schaber said Love's should be open by January. There will be room for trucks to park overnight, showers for truckers, and a Hardee's restaurant in addition to all the goods and services available at Love's.
Frank Ille, manager of development for Love's Travel Stops, said he initially took notice of St. Charles sometime around August 2018 during a real estate scouting trip in the region. The city's location between Love's locations near Tomah, Wis., and Albert Lea, not to mention the clear sight lines from the interstate, and the traffic on I-90 made the business park an attractive option.
Part of the deal for Love's involved buying a parcel of land from the Whitewater Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership.
Ille said Love's usually takes about 200 days for construction. The site in St. Charles is ready for footings and the pad for the building, then the steel-frame building will go up with the paving going last. The St. Charles site will have tire store for semi tractor-trailers.
"The city was great to work with the whole time," Ille said. "We knew from the first conversation I had with Nick (Koverman, city administrator), they wanted us here."
Koverman said the deal to bring Love's to St. Charles happened fast, but that's the reputation the city wants to build.
"Businesses talk to other businesses," Koverman said. "They already have huge decisions to make, so we don't want to be the link that holds them up."