‘Opportunity Zone’ seen as town spark

By Seth Schmidt

Can a new federally-funded “Opportunity Zone” program help ignite new housing and commercial development in Tracy?

Absolutely, Tracy EDA coordinator Jeff Carpenter told the Tracy City Council Monday.

“I believe this could be critical,” Carpenter said.

The Opportunity Zone initiative, approved by the Trump Administration late last year, offers “lucrative” incentives to private developers who invest in low- and moderate-income based housing, Carpenter said.  Areas identified by Census information as “distressed Census tracks” are eligible to apply.

Carpenter said that the City of Tracy, and a portion of north Marshall, are the only two areas in Lyon County designated as distressed areas.  He said that he is working with the Marshall EDA to have Lyon County apply for Opportunity Zone for the two sites. Gov. Mark Dayton will select up to 123 Opportunity Zones throughout Minnesota from qualified applications.

Carpenter is scheduled to make the formal request to the Lyon County Commissioners in March.

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The Opportunity Zone program, Carpenter told council members, could address what he considers a significant shortage of housing in Tracy.  The program also offers incentives for commercial development.

To support the Tracy/Marshall Opportunity Zone application that will be made through the county, Carpenter said he’s in the process of lining up “sponsors” to document local needs.  He said that he’s already talked with one private investor with interest in the program.

The Opportunity Zone incentives for investors, Carpenter said, would be in the form of “tax breaks.”  No public dollars would be needed locally.

“But I’ve still got to find the investors,” he said.

The Opportunity Zone program, Carpenter said, is groundwork that Tracy can put in place now to bring results, “two, three, four years from now.”

The council unanimously approved a resolution offering city backing to the Opportunity Zone application.

“Sounds like a great thing,” said Mayor Pam Cooreman.