ST. CLOUD - Redevelopment of two key pieces of property, that's what St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis wants to see. During his 12th "State of the City" address Tuesday he talked about two catalyst sites identified in the city's Comprehensive Plan.

He says they're close to making progress on the vacant Cooper Avenue site, including reaching an agreement with Xcel Energy to move a sub-station off the site. Once that happens a mixed-use development can be planned.

It's a combination of housing and retail.  It's a retail corridor obviously with Highway 23/Division Street. So if you do a combination of multi-use you have a great opportunity for kind of a gateway to downtown.

Kleis says it would probably be anchored by a large retailer. The vacant lot is across Cooper Avenue, just west of Coborn's.

The other catalyst site that the mayor wants to redevelop is the Empire Apartment building on the west bank of the Mississippi River.  He says it's a prime piece of real estate.

What better place to have a hotel and a restaurant. Put that back on the tax rolls. And, at the same time take a look at some of the housing challenges we have.  It's an opportunity.

The apartments are used for low-income housing now. Kleis wants the HRA to come up with a plan to relocate the residents, and the EDA to find a way to pay for the project.

Also during the mayor's speech, he announced the city has received a grant that will focus on lowering the skills gap in the community. The city has been approved for an AmeriCorp Vista grant. It will pay for one full time person to work in the city offices.

That person will be focusing on just that issue of dealing with the gap in employment, in particular when it comes to poverty.  That will be their job.

Kleis says 14.5 percent of the city residents are living in poverty, despite the low unemployment rate in the area.

Kleis also revealed several results from the recent community survey.  The "top issues" the city residents identified are:  public safety, road construction, traffic congestion, and Northstar.

Fifty-four percent of the respondents say traffic is very or somewhat difficult, while 43 percent say it is very or somewhat easy.

Overall city services got a 94 percent approval rating by the residents.

Ninety-five percent also says the overall appearance of the city is positive.  Kleis has also invited residents to have him come to their neighborhood and help clean-up the trash.

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, photo by's Jim Maurice