Richfield's redevelopment guru, John Stark, leaves after 21 years of service
It is true that the City of Richfield was developed and predominantly shaped in the years following World War II. Within two decades, the city was considered 100 percent developed, with all land dedicated to a specific use. Since then, all of the major changes to the city’s makeup have occurred through the process of redevelopment and for the majority of the past two decades that process has been shepherded by Community Development Director John Stark.
Now, after 21 years of service to the people of Richfield and following a period of unprecedented redevelopment, Stark will be leaving the city.
“John has done such a great job at tailoring our redevelopment efforts over the years to ensure that Richfield is a place where everyone can access amenities and call it home,” said Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez. “He leaves a long, generational legacy that has led to Richfield being one of the most desirable communities in Minnesota.”
Stark started working for the City of Richfield in 1998 and has held the positions of community development manager, housing and redevelopment manager, assistant community development director and community development director.
Over the course of his tenure with the city, Stark helped usher in a renaissance of redevelopment in Richfield, adding 2,350 housing units, coordinating the relocation and creation of the Best Buy corporate headquarters, and reimaging the Cedar Avenue Corridor.
The Best Buy project commenced only months after Stark started with the city and it did not get off to a good start.
“Originally, what is now the Best Buy corporate campus was supposed to be a hotel, but that project fell apart,” remembered Stark. “The parcel of land was in major need of redevelopment and we wanted to be as strategic as possible. Thankfully, everyone from our elected officials to city staff to the leadership at Best Buy was committed to developing a project that suited the needs of all parties.”
The Best Buy campus opened in 2003.
The project also showed that after decades of relatively intermittent and smaller-scale redevelopment projects, Richfield was ready and able to be considered for other major projects.
Another challenging redevelopment the Community Development Department was tasked with during Stark’s tenure involved the Cedar Avenue Corridor, which abuts the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport.
“After the airport expansion project was complete, we learned very quickly from residents that the single-family homes next to the airport were not constructed to handle the noise. As a team, we needed to find a use for the area and protect the other adjacent homes from the noise associated with the take-off and landing of commercial airplanes,” stated Stark.
The Community Development Department found a solution to their problem by working with developers to establish a new commercial district, now known as Cedar Point Commons, which includes a Target, Home Depot, various other businesses and an assortment of multi-family housing options.
“The new businesses, apartments and townhomes have truly revitalized Richfield’s eastside,” confided Assistant Community Development Director Melissa Poehlman. “Our department under John’s leadership was able to turn a nearly impossible redevelopment challenge into one of the city’s busier commercial areas that attract people from Minneapolis, Bloomington, Richfield and beyond.”
In 2005, Stark left the Community Development Department, and thus the City of Richfield, for two years to obtain his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and to work as the Community Development Director for the City of Roseville. He returned to the city in 2007 when the director-level position opened in the Community Development department.
Stark hit the ground running when he returned, with the aim of finding creative ways to add more housing units to the city.
“Companies have stocks, cities have residents,” explained Stark. “Adding 2,350 housing units over the past decade has attracted more than 4,000 new residents to Richfield. These newcomers have made the city a more diverse place to live and added greatly to the community’s vitality.”
All in all, Stark has witnessed $440 million in redevelopment projects constructed in Richfield since 2011.
“I am proud of all the projects I have been a part of in my two decades with the city, but what I am proudest of is the team I have been able to cultivate,” beamed Stark. “Richfield has some of the smartest, most capable and committed planning, zoning and housing professionals in the State of Minnesota, probably the country. The city is in great hands.”
Richfield’s city manager concurs with that sentiment.
“John was able to usher in a decade of development, previously unseen in Richfield’s history,” proclaimed City Manager Katie Rodriguez. “Additionally and maybe even more importantly, he has been able to develop a high-functioning department and leadership team that is ready, willing and able to continue the city’s redevelopment work.”
Starting January 3, Stark will become the new city manager for North Saint Paul.