St. Cloud mayor says the city is strong, faces challenges

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis gives the State of the City address.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis gives the State of the City address at the Technical High School's auditorium on Tuesday.
Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis gave his city a positive report card during his annual address Tuesday, saying the city is making progress in areas such as economic growth and reducing crime.

But the mayor said his central Minnesota city does face challenges, including poverty, a need for more housing and the recent loss of some major retailers.

"The state of the city of St. Cloud is strong," Kleis said. "It's growing — growing within the tradition of a rich history but with new stories being written every day."

Kleis started the tradition of giving annual updates on the city when he became mayor 14 years ago. Now in his fourth term, he's become the longest-serving mayor in the city's history.

Kleis said the city should focus on strengthening its core. He noted that St. Cloud's population is 68,000, but its daytime population swells to more than 168,000.

"We're a regional center," he said. "It's important that we focus on the economic activity of a regional center."

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Housing will be a challenge for St. Cloud in the future, Kleis said. Studies show that by 2030, the community will need 7,000 new housing units, including rental apartments, single-family homes and senior housing.

The mayor noted that the city has lost some large retail stores recently, including Herberger's, Sears and Shopko, although he added that discount retail giant Costco is building a new store in the city.

"We've got a lot of legacy businesses over the years that have come and gone," he said. "It's challenging when businesses leave, but it's important that we do everything that we can to add businesses to our community."

Kleis also said the city's priorities for transportation should include a new bridge across the Mississippi River to relieve traffic congestion and extending the Northstar commuter rail line to St. Cloud.

Kleis delivered his address in the auditorium of St. Cloud's historic Technical High School — probably for the last time. This fall, Tech students will be moving to a new high school being built on the city's south side.

The city has requested proposals to redevelop the 100-year-old existing school near downtown into a mixture of businesses and residences.