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Growth and change: Woodbury mayor gives State of the City address

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Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens gave the annual State of the City address Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 in Central Park. (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad)2 / 2

In kicking off the city's 50th birthday, Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens gave a State of the City address Sunday, touching on Woodbury's recent successes and its continued growth and transformation during an information-packed message.

In the spirit of Woodbury's 50th anniversary, the mayor highlighted the city's history and the direction it might take in the future during her speech which drew about 100 people to Central Park.

"I want to give credit to the Bielenbergs and all of those (who) came before for the great vision that they've had," Stephens said. "We've really tried to keep that vision while still adapting to the change and being flexible as we're planning and preparing for the future."

As the state's ninth-largest city, Stephens said the city continues to grow, adding that the city estimates it will reach about 85,000 residents by 2040.

In line with national trends, the city is also becoming more racially diverse.

According to city data, the city is home to roughly 14,000 minorities, up from about 1,000 in 1990.

With that in mind, Stephens said a number of city and public safety staffers have undergone training on furthering racial equity.

"Across the country, our kindergarten classes are already showing us what our future is going to look like," she said. "The nation's cities and governments — including the city of Woodbury — (are) looking at that to say: What does that mean for governance, engagement and community building?"

Like much of the country, the city is also aging. In the coming years, Stephens said senior adults will outnumber school-aged children.

As well as a growing residential population, business continues to steadily grow in Woodbury.

Woodbury's success is due to some luck and a lot of careful planning, Stephens said.

Last year, the city saw 262,000 square feet of new commercial development planned. The majority of the development being designated to non-retail jobs, Stephens said. The city saw 63 new businesses open, according to city data.

The 100-acre CityPlace development, located south of Interstate 94, has continued to be a priority for city leaders, Stephens said.

The site is the former State Farm Insurance headquarters — the insurer's building long stood vacant when the company decided to move from Woodbury in 2006. The goal for city leaders has been to replace those jobs that left.

Since the city began working with Florida-based developers Elion Partners in 2013, more than a dozen retailers have opened, as well as a number of new workplaces, including the new TRIA Orthopaedic Center that's slated to open this year.

"A lot's happening at CityPlace," Stephens said.

City leaders have also turned a heavy focus on attracting health and medical facilities.

Last year, the city surpassed one million square feet in medical space and now totals 190 health care-related businesses, according to Stephens.

"We are known as a health care destination, and living here, you know you can have access to world-class health care," she said. "Not many suburban communities can say that."

She also announced that 3M Co. recently leased the top floor of the 500 Bielenberg building, commonly called the Hartford Building.

"3M will be increasing their presence by a couple hundred, so they'll probably have about 500 employees at their Woodbury location," Stephens said.

The city created its parks and trails plan in 1971, and now has more than 140 miles of trails, 54 parks and four fishing piers.

Stephens said the city is also planning to renovate Ojibway Park and Central Park.

"As we age and diversify, the needs are going to change, so we have worked and envisioned what this might look like moving forward," she said.

Stephens also highlighted a number of future projects across the city, including the renovations of two Woodbury parks, the proposed public safety training facility dubbed the HERO Center and the Gold Line bus-rapid transit, which is projected to run in 2023.

She also touched on the city's bid last year for the All-American City Award.

Though Woodbury did not bring home the designation, Stephens said the running allowed her and other city and community leaders to reflect on past successes, such as the opening of the all-inclusive Madison's Place Playground and a Feed My Starving Children drive that saw volunteers package more than four million meals to be shipped overseas.

The city plans to make the State of the City address an annual tradition. The South Washington County Telecommunications Commission will also be broadcasting this year's address on its website.