Zimmerman’s cityadministrator mapped out city’s future one step at a time
by Jim Boyle
Zimmerman City Administrator Randy Piasecki celebrated his 25th anniversary with the city last month. He has been at the center of the city’s growth and evolution, all while managing to maintain the community’s charm and idyllic north woods setting.
The 53-year-old planner at heart who now calls Sauk Rapids home never ventured very far from his hometown of Pierz. The abundance of wildlife, lakes, streams, snowmobiling and cross-country ski trails there was comforting. Lake Country suited him well.
The Morrison County native and 1985 graduate of Pierz Healy High School moved next door to Stearns County to attend college at St. Cloud State University to pursue a degree in local and urban affairs. After graduating there, he headed back to Morrison County to intern in the Little Falls planning and zoning office. Eighteen months later he landed his first permanent gig as the Mille Lacs County zoning and solid waste administrator.
He didn’t stay long, though. Among other things he traveled from one end of the county to the other to do sewer inspections, but that didn’t bother him. What did is he sensed a complacency in Mille Lacs County at the time that suggested to him officials were more comfortable with the status quo than he ever would be. There was a new frontier calling him. That’s when he applied for and landed the job as the planner and coordinator of the city of Zimmerman, a quiet town of about 1,500 with seemingly only a Dairy Queen and Holiday gas station to pull people off Highway 169.
There was so much more, though. Piasecki wasn’t just interested in the economic development potential of Highway 169 and County Road 4, which have served as main arteries for growth and development. He was enamored with the forested countryside that includes untouchable places like the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge and the fact he could look up and see a bald eagle soar while driving along county roads.
Piasecki and his wife, Lynn, lived in Elk River for about three years before the couple moved to Sauk Rapids to be closer to Lynn’s office.
As the city’s planner and coordinator, he did the planning and coordinating and filled in the blanks of what a city administrator would do if one were in place. As the city grew, it eventually added the position city administrator in 2005 and hired someone who served for 18 months. Piasecki replaced the first city administrator in 2007.
Much of Piasecki’s work in Zimmerman has been the behind the scenes work required to prepare for growth. Piasecki has been process-oriented since Day 1. Six weeks after his arrival he signed paperwork for the sale of land to make way for Zimmerman Middle and High School, a need that grew out of growth and an amenity that would spur community pride and even more growth.
Water plants, treatment facilities and water towers brought to the council for approval by past and current staff have braced the city for growth. An article hanging in his office notes Zimmerman was once the 10th fastest growing city in the state.
Piasecki has found with every boom and major project (some minor ones, too) there is an ebb and a flow that starts with a calm while the initial planning is done, which eventually causes a stir that for some leads to an uproar followed later by an acceptance and usually a realization that the city’s leaders — from its council members to city staff and Administrator Piasecki — have planned things out pretty well.
The latest addition to Zimmerman to get some people up in arms is the downtown apartment complex designed to become home to many and attract a miniature market force in the downtown business district. The hope is it will be a significant feature prompting people to get off Highway 169 and into Zimmerman. Ironically, it is difficult to see the four-story structure from the highway, but its presence in the downtown is immense.
Piasecki said the project took three years of solid planning and approvals to finally get off the ground, and he is optimistic it will be well received by the public once it has a chance to prove itself.
“The hope is it will help downtown not only be alive but thrive,” Piasecki said.
Zimmerman now numbers 5,800 people, a deceptive number as the surrounding township of Livonia provides another 6,000 and nearby Baldwin Township has more than 7,000 residents.
“There are two counties and six townships represented in the 55398 zip code,” Piasecki said. “There are a lot more people in this area than people realize.”
Forested areas hide a lot. The biggest and one of the most notable changes to Zimmerman’s landscape during Piasecki’s tenure, of course, has been the addition of Zimmerman Middle and its expansion to Zimmerman Middle and High School.
“That really brings the community together,” Piasecki said.
And anything that causes people to get off Highway 169 and look around has the potential to change people’s minds about what’s there.
“I have a lot of pride in what’s here,” Piasecki said. “If you only drive by on (Highway) 169, you’ll have no clue.”
For some like Piasecki, it’s the last frontier before reaching Elk River and the rest of the Twin Cities.
“I grew up outstate, and I have no desire to move closer in,” Piasecki said.
His plan is to continue thoughtfully planning for growth and changes that will come to the Highway 169 corridor and preserving the heart of Zimmerman that attracted him in the first place.