Visionary Picha named Citizen of the YearValuable "behind-the-scenes" resource for city officials.
By: Riham Feshir, Woodbury Bulletin
On his first day as the city’s new Community Development Director in 1977, Dwight Picha met with developers to discuss 3,000 new housing units for Colby Lake, Ever Green and Woodlane Hills.
That evening, he also met with about 600 people about a proposed regional shopping center by the Dayton Hudson Corporation.
“When I got home that night, I just thought, ‘What did I get myself into,’” Picha said with a smile.
Obviously that busy first day did not change his mind about the job. Picha has been the city’s Community Development Director for 35 years, starting the job right out of college at just 22 years old.
Picha was named the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce 2012 Citizen of the Year and will be honored at the chamber’s annual awards gala this Friday.
His colleagues say he helped build Woodbury from a rural town of 8,000 to the thriving community it is today.
Picha set architectural, design and landscaping standards that have made him a valuable asset to various city officials over the years, City Administrator Clint Gridley said.
“The commercial architectural standards, well-planned residential neighborhoods and substantial economic development activity are among the hallmarks of Dwight’s tenure,” Gridley wrote in his nomination letter. “Not one to put a spotlight on himself, Dwight has been an important behind-the-scenes resource for the five mayors, three city administrators and numerous council members and planning commission members of the city.”
Picha, who grew up in Eden Prairie and moved to Woodbury on his first day of work, interviewed with first mayor Orville Bielenberg knowing the city was just about to start growing.
He had a vision for the community that stood out to the City Council and it didn’t matter that he was about 20 years younger than all the other candidates.
“I really didn’t think I had a chance because I was so young,” Picha said.
The city had plans to build major sewer lines, have highway access from Interstate 494 and bring additional overall upgrades to the city.
And with a growing 3M right across the border in Maplewood, there was a big demand for housing, he recalled.
“They were looking for someone who could really help them with a plan for the community,” Picha said of the council.
Picha was an integral part of the city’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan developed in 1980, which set the stage for what Woodbury has become today.
“It’s been a lot of fun – very satisfying to implement that vision,” he said.
The Comprehensive Plan was a “complex process” where one needs extensive knowledge of the marketplace and infrastructure of the city, he added. It’s about knowing what projects to bring and when to bring them.
He’s proud to have included a system for parkland and lakes, shopping centers and general economic development.
He worked hard to create a business community in Woodbury with Woodwinds Health Campus anchoring a medical corridor, the northeast business park and residential phases of development.
He helped design the Eagle Valley Golf Course as well as the Bielenberg Sports Center from the ground up. It was also important for Woodbury to start bringing in retail centers 20 years ago so residents have a place to grocery shop and bank.
Picha also encouraged building a relationship between the city and District 833 to bring in East Ridge High School to a growing part of town, as well as building more elementary schools to serve young families.
Humbled by the award of Citizen of the Year, Picha said he was “shocked” to learn he won.
But his colleague, planning and economic development manager Janelle Schmitz, had been planning to nominate him for years.
She was just waiting until he hit his 35th anniversary this year to recognize what he’s done for Woodbury.
His career is not just about what he’s done in one year, she said, it’s an accumulation of plans, ideas and city standards that has shaped Woodbury.
“His commitment to that long-term vision and that aesthetic value that created this community has this certain quality,” Schmitz, who’s worked with Picha for 17 years, said. “It’s well deserved, and it’s certainly somebody who devotes a lot of time and energy not only to creating the community but maintaining it as well.”
Not just city work
It’s not all about his official role, though. Picha also enjoys volunteering for various organizations and churches to bring in more ideas and partnerships to the table.
He served as board member for SPEDCO for 20 years. It’s a nonprofit company whose mission is to help small businesses obtain financing for job creation, fund business expansion and promote economic development throughout the state.
Picha has also been part of the Lions Club for 25 years, where he served as president for one year, and he was a Chamber of Commerce board member, where he co-founded and ran the annual scholarship golf tournament.
Picha has been a volunteer for many church committees, especially new ones who needed the right sites and plans to meet city zoning requirements.
After 35 years and many accomplishments, Picha doesn’t have plans to retire any time soon.
“It’s just a nice place to work,” he said. “We’ve always had great stability and the vision has never changed.”
Gridley credits Picha’s effort for making Woodbury one of “America’s hottest towns” taking the No. 11 spot on Money Magazines “Best Places to Live” list.
“With ‘exemplary service to the community’ as the standard for the Citizen of the Year Award, I cannot think of a more appropriate person to select for this recognition than Dwight Picha,” he said.